This past Sunday, Politico reporter Alice Miranda Ollstein wrote that “no federal dollars have gone to fund abortions…” According to Ollstein, this has been the case “for decades…”
In fact, the exact opposite is true. Not only does the federal Hyde Amendment allow abortion funding – and has for decades – abortions are further funded through Title X. The latter is supposed to fund contraception access to low-income women, but many abortifacients are considered contraceptives under federal law.
A common mistake
This is a common and troubling mistake among people who should know better. Two years ago, former Politico reporter Jennifer Haberkorn declared that “federal law…bars Planned Parenthood from using taxpayer funds for abortion” and that “the Hyde Amendment…bans the use of federal money for abortion…” Likewise, an American Civil Liberties Union essay on the Hyde Amendment acknowledges the exceptions yet declares there are “federal and state bans on public funding for abortion…”
In 2017, an op-ed in The Hill acknowledging the exceptions was headlined “Get the facts straight – there is no federal funding of abortions.” An op-ed by an abortion advocate just this week in The Guardian claims federal law “prohibits any federal money from paying for abortions” — just one sentence before noting that “three…exceptions” exist. A 2015, a Washington Post article made the same claim.
It’s not just mainstream reporters and abortion advocates who say this. It’s practically a colloquial term on Capitol Hill. While I was only a low-level staffer for 20 months, I heard many who oppose abortion claim that anything with the Hyde Amendment restrictions in it doesn’t fund abortion. And in one off-the-record meeting a few years later, a Capitol Hill staffer involved in pro-life policy work made the same mistake in a presentation to conservative leaders.
What are the facts?
As I noticed in a substantive fact-check of Haberkorn in 2016, the statutory language of the Hyde Amendment and former Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards make clear that abortions are funded under the Hyde Amendment. Specifically, Richards told Congress in 2015 that “while the federal policy, in my opinion, discriminated against low-income women, no federal funds pay for abortion services at PP or anywhere else except in the very limited circumstances allowed by law” (emphasis added).
Planned Parenthood’s political arm says the same thing on its website:
Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has blocked federal Medicaid funding for abortion services (since 1994, there have been three extremely narrow exceptions: when continuing the pregnancy will endanger the woman’s life, or when the pregnancy results from rape or incest).
Planned Parenthood’s facts aren’t entirely correct – the Hyde Amendment’s original language allowed abortion funding only if the mother’s life was at risk. The rape and incest exceptions were added in 1994.
But don’t take Planned Parenthood’s word for it. From the official “purpose” of the 1993 bill which eventually became the modern Hyde Amendment:
An amendment to prohibit the use of any funds appropriated in the bill for any abortion except, when it is necessary to save the life of the mother or when the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.
Wait, there’s more!
Abortions are also funded through Title X funding via abortifacients. Hakerborn acknowledged the Hyde funding in an e-mail to me, and said she “added” the exceptions to her story “for additional context,” but declared that since “the FDA says that [IUDs] are not abortifacients…we do not acknowledge them as such.”
However, the Food & Drug Administration is simply wrong. As I wrote at The Stream two years ago, the fact that abortions are done by several federally funded drugs and devices “is easily proven through simple scientific observation.”
This scientific reality was the basis for Hobby Lobby’s 2014 victory at the U.S. Supreme Court against the Obama administration’s coverage mandate. These drugs and devices can prevent implantation in the womb – which means a human being starves to death instead of attaching to his or her mother.
This funding, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate, accounted for about $60 million of Planned Parenthood’s revenues in 2014.
To her credit, Hakerborn acknowledged in her story that pro-life advocates consider any money going to Planned Parenthood and other groups as funding abortion. The fact is that money in one pocket helps fund the other one. So even if the Hyde Amendment and Title X laws were more stringent, taxpayers would still be on the hook for Planned Parenthood’s 300,000-plus abortions each year.
Federal funding will continue
Alas, the facts don’t seem to matter to many mainstream reporters and abortion advocates. I read Hakerborn’s story several times while writing this piece. There is no mention of the Hyde Amendment’s exceptions, despite what she e-mailed me. Ollstein didn’t correct her article even after I had sent her an e-mail.
As a result of these and other factually and intellectually dishonest media portrayals of the Hyde Amendment, many Americans may believe federal funding is currently banned for abortion. It’s not. And, as reported by Ollstein, that’s not likely to change for some time. Our “pro-life” Republican leadership has bailed yet again on an important campaign promise, despite the confidence a number of pro-life leaders expressed two years ago. Sadly, I’m not surprised.
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