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What you need to know today about the Hyde Amendment

Featued in the image is former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
Featued in the image is former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. | REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The Hyde Amendment – which bans federal tax dollars from paying for abortions – is back in the news following the announcement by Democrat candidate for President, former Vice President Joe Biden, announced he no longer supports it. 

So, what is the Hyde Amendment?

The Hyde Amendment (named after late congressman Henry Hyde) was passed in 1976, three years after the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade.  The amendment is affirmed each year by Congress as a rider to the HHS appropriations bill because it prohibits federal funding of abortions.  The rider has said various things over the years but the current version  includes exceptions that allow Medicaid funds to be used for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or the health of the mother – but all other federal taxpayer funding of abortion is banned by Hyde. 

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Between 1976, when the Hyde Amendment first passed, and 1980 when it took effect (after the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional), federal tax dollars funded 25% of all abortions nationally or some  300,000 abortions annually. To be clear, before the Hyde Amendment went into effect, America’s taxpayers paid for nearly a million abortions. 

Joe Biden’s reversal is significant because the Hyde Amendment has historically had bipartisan support in Congress.  It is a part of the annual appropriations process, is routinely passed, and rarely challenged – until the 2016 Presidential campaign cycle. The Hyde Amendment stood under six presidencies – 3 Democrat and 3 Republican. Bill Clinton campaigned against it in 1992 but continued to sign a version of the Hyde Amendment into law each year that allowed for taxpayer funding to be used for abortions through Medicaid funding in cases of rape and incest, an extremely small number of abortions.  And it was President Obama who enshrined Hyde via an executive order pertaining to the Affordable Care Act. Executive Order 13535establishes “an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered), consistent with a longstanding Federal statutory restriction that is commonly known as the Hyde Amendment.” 

But the DNC party platform expressly calls for the repeal of Hyde.

In 2016, then Democrat Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton campaigned for the repeal and anyone who wants to the Democrat nominee in 2020 has to do so as well. Thus, Joe Biden’s reversal to join the ranks of every other Democrat contending for the nomination.

There’s a bill in Congress called the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act that would effectively repeal the Hyde Amendment. Among the co-sponsors of its latest version are Presidential hopefuls Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala D. Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Eric Swalwell and Seth Moulton. Tim Ryan is on record supporting the repeal of the amendment, as are Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Jay Inslee, Bill de Blasio and Julián Castro. And recently, ThinkProgress reported that the campaigns of Gabbard, John Delaney, John Hickenlooper, Wayne Messam and Marianne Williamson all said they support federal funding for abortion. So, that leaves Joe Biden. Or, it left Joe Biden, until his announcement yesterday that he now supports the repeal of Hyde which he supported all 30 years he was in Congress and the 8 years he served as Vice President of the United States.

Why it matters…

The Hyde Amendment stands as a unique compromise in American politics. There may be no greater divide in America than the divide over abortion. Those who see it as a life issue do not want to be compelled through government taxes to participate in – and fund – what they view as murder. And up until now, those who see abortion as a right have recognized the need to protect the conscience of their neighbors. Not anymore.

Congressman Henry Hyde – after whom the Hyde Amendment is named, rightly observed, “This is a debate about our understanding of human dignity, what it means to be a member of the human family, even though tiny, powerless, and unwanted.”

So, as the debate about abortion continues, so too the debate over the question of whether or not it is a social good for which all people are compelled to pay through government funding.  Numerous Supreme Court cases have made clear that the government is free to incentivize and prioritize childbirth over abortion. But chief among our concerns here should be the protection of conscience and religious freedom for tens of millions of pro-life Americans.

When abortion advocates argue that abortion is a personal medical decision made by an individual woman about her bodily autonomy we must observe that if the Hyde Amendment is repealed, every taxpaying American will be compelled as an unwilling participant in her abortion. For those of us who are pro-life from conception to natural death, the weight upon the conscience would be unbearable.

Abortion is legal but that does make it a moral good.

Abortion is no longer rare and some states are moving to make it available at any time, for any reason – and at no cost. But there’s always a cost – and the cost is high and rising every day as the human dignity of the pre-born is assaulted anew.

Originally posted at

Carmen LaBerge is host of the "Connecting Faith with Carmen LaBerge" radio program, author of Speak the Truth: How to Bring God Back Into Every Conversation and Executive Director of the Common Ground Christian Network

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