By Tom Strode
WASHINGTON (BP) – Pro-life advocates are bracing for an assault next year on a federal policy that has protected the consciences of many Americans and saved the lives of an estimated 2.4 million unborn children since 1976.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and another Democratic leader have told some members of their party they will not include the Hyde Amendment in spending bills beginning in 2021, according to the Los Angeles Times. The measure – enacted only three years after the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide – prohibits federal funding of abortion in Medicaid and other programs.
For 44 years, many pro-choice Americans have agreed with pro-lifers that taxpayers should not be required to support a practice that violates their consciences. Democrats in Congress have increasingly advocated rescinding the Hyde Amendment, which has to be approved each year.
The opportunity to take control of the Senate and the White House in November’s election has emboldened Democrats in the House of Representatives to plan for an overthrow of a long-standing agreement between the major political parties that, if successful, would undoubtedly lead to an increase in the number of abortions in the United States.
Pro-life leaders attested to the importance of maintaining the Hyde Amendment in federal law.
The Hyde Amendment “saves lives and protects American consciences,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “For over 40 years we have had a consensus that taxpayer dollars should never be used to fund abortion.”
The ERLC, which has worked for a permanent prohibition on federal funding of abortion, “will continue to advocate for [the Hyde Amendment] and, in doing so, point out that women and children in crisis should be cared for and all human life cherished,” Moore told Baptist Press in written comments.
Steve Aden, chief legal officer of Americans United for Life, said abortion-rights advocates realize the “one big thing that moves the needle on demand for elective abortion is whether it is paid for by tax dollars. And that means the Hyde Amendment has to go, according to these pro-abortion politicians.”
Aden said Pelosi “has drawn a line in the sand, and I think that means that we will see a knock-’em-down, drag-’em-out fight over the budget beginning next year between probably Republicans in the Senate who want to hold the line on pro-life protections and Democrats in the House who want to erase them.”
“Whether or not President Trump will be there to fulfill his promise to veto any spending measure that doesn’t include pro-life protections is anyone’s guess,” Aden said. “But regardless of who is in the White House, it looks like there will be an epic political battle over taxpayer funding of abortion beginning next year.”
If the House succeeds in eliminating the Hyde Amendment, Democrats will likely face a stiffer test in the Senate, which is now controlled by Republicans. Even if the GOP loses its majority in November, Republicans will overwhelmingly oppose removing Hyde and have the advantage of a 60-vote requirement to bring a measure to the floor for a vote. Senate Democrats, however, could seek to reform the Senate’s rules to require a simple majority to halt what is known as a filibuster.
Foes of Hyde are hoping congressional approval of spending bills without the amendment will find a receptive audience in the White House. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democrats’ presidential nominee, reversed his long-standing position last year, announcing he no longer supports the Hyde Amendment.
In a Sept. 3 letter, Trump – whose administration has promoted and implemented pro-life policies – promised movement leaders he would work for a permanent ban on federal funding of abortion if re-elected.
“[T]here is still a strong cadre of pro-life senators who would hold the line on any budgetary measure that doesn’t protect life,” Aden said. “The question then becomes: ‘Would the Democrats exert the nuclear option and [do away with] the 60-vote requirement filibuster for spending measures?’ My guess is they would in order to get a pro-abortion spending bill to a Democratic president.
“I think that they are completely focused on promoting abortion any way they can, including abortion paid for by your tax dollars and mine, and will do anything they can to make that happen.”
The Hyde Amendment bears the name of the late Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill, who introduced the ban in his first term in the House. Medicaid had funded about 300,000 abortions in the year prior to his amendment’s approval in 1976. The Hyde Amendment became the general label for such bans on federal health programs and has been attached as a rider to spending bills every year since. It includes exceptions for a threat to the mother’s life, rape, and incest.
Michael New, associate scholar of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, estimated in July the Hyde Amendment has saved the lives of more than 2.4 million unborn babies. The institute is the education and research arm of the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List.
Public opinion surveys have consistently shown Americans favor a ban on taxpayer funding of abortion. A Marist poll in 2018 for the Knights of Columbus found 60 percent of adults oppose using government funds for abortions, while 36 percent support such use of taxpayer money. In 2019, a McLaughlin & Associates poll for the Susan B. Anthony List showed 55 percent of Americans, including 35 percent of Democrats, oppose using Medicaid funds for abortions.
Aden and a pro-life leader among Democrats said the effort to abolish the Hyde Amendment could hurt the party in November.
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, tweeted Sept. 2 after news of Pelosi’s plans broke: “Tax-payer funded abortion until birth is not only immoral, it’s a losing electoral issue. … Why would @SpeakerPelosi make repealing Hyde a priority for the next Congress?”
Pelosi and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Ct., chair of the House subcommittee that oversees health programs, told some members in July they would not add the Hyde Amendment to spending bills next year, the Los Angeles Times reported Aug. 28.
Democrats who oppose Hyde describe it as a justice issue.
“It’s an issue of racial justice and it’s an issue of discrimination against low-income women, women of color, women who don’t have access to what middle- and upper-income women have in terms of the choice to have an abortion,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., according to the Times.
Chelsea Sobolik, a policy director for the ERLC, said in written remarks the Hyde Amendment “is one of many pro-life riders to appropriations bills that we support and defend every year. It’s an ongoing priority of our pro-life work in Washington to make sure that federal taxpayer dollars are not used to violate American consciences and fund abortion.”
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.