Washington D.C., Jun 13, 2019 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- Though a majority of Americans oppose taxpayer-funded abortion, leading Democrats in Congress have repeated their opposition to the Hyde Amendment while simultaneously keeping its strong limits on abortion funding in federal spending appropriation bills.
“I do not think it is good public policy, and I wish we never had a Hyde Amendment, but it is the law of the land right now,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told a fiscal summit hosted in New York by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.
“I don’t see that there is an opportunity to get rid of it with the current occupant of the White House and some in the United States Senate,” she said, according to National Public Radio.
Congressional Democratic leaders suppressed an effort by first-term U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., to strip the Hyde Amendment from the funding bill.
The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for most abortions. It was introduced in 1976 by Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill. It is not a law, but rather has been passed as a rider to budget legislation every year.
At the time the Hyde Amendment was first signed into law in 1977, it had the support of nearly half of Congressional Democrats. It still enjoys some bipartisan support.
In its current form the amendment prohibits federal tax dollars from paying for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or when it is deemed necessary to save the life of the mother.
The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, has estimated that more than 2 million unborn lives have been saved as a result of the policy.
Leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have all voiced opposition to the Hyde Amendment, including former vice president Joe Biden. As recently as early June his campaign said he backed the amendment. He then reversed his view after heavy pressure from his party and from pro-abortion rights advocates, though this policy could hurt Biden in key Midwestern states in a general election.
In his June 10 column, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia strongly criticized Biden, a Catholic, for adhering to party politics rather than defending his beliefs.
“The unborn child means exactly zero in the calculus of power for Democratic Party leaders, and the right to an abortion, once described as a tragic necessity, is now a perverse kind of ‘sacrament most holy’,” Chaput said, citing a Catholic hymn. “It will have a candidate’s allegiance and full-throated reverence… or else.”
Biden’s reversal was lamented by Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America.
“With all the major candidates fighting to be the most extreme on abortion, there is a wide-open lane for a candidate to bring an alternative position to the discussion and to unify Democrats around common ground principles,” she told CNA in a recent interview.
Day said that Democrats should instead work for equal opportunity and equality, instead of paying for abortions for poorer women.
“Poor women don’t want money for abortions; they want the same opportunities to parent as their rich counterparts,” she said.
House Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., told reporters she opposes the amendment and the Democratic Party is overwhelmingly pro-abortion rights. While most Congressional Democrats would favor eliminating the Hyde Amendment, she said, spending bills need support from both parties to avoid a government shutdown.
“People don’t want to throw that into an appropriations bill that has to go to a Republican Senate and be signed by a Republican president,” Jayapal said.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said he thinks every presidential candidate who has served in Congress has voted for an appropriations bill with the Hyde Amendment.
U.S. Sen Kamala Harris, D-Calif., contended that a vote for such spending bills is not a vote for the amendment itself.
“The Hyde Amendment is the law. And so it has been attached to other funding bills, and until we repeal it, which is what I am in favor of, it will be attached to federal government funding bills. That’s the problem with the Hyde Amendment,” Harris told The NPR Politics Podcast.
A bill that included a provision to make the amendment permanent, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, failed to gain the 60 votes needed to win a procedural vote in the Senate in January 2019. In that vote 48 senators, including two Democrats, voted for cloture while 47 senators, including two Republicans, voted against it.
Nationally, more than half of Americans say they do not support federal funding of abortions.
While three out of four women who undergo abortions are living in poverty, the Hyde Amendment is actually far less popular among low-income voters. A September 2016 poll of likely voters conducted for Politico and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that only 24 percent of people making under $25,000 a year said they were in favor of the public funding of abortion services, compared to 45 percent of people making over $75,000.
Overall, 58 percent of likely voters opposed public funding for abortion, with only 36 percent voicing support, the 2016 poll said. A February 2019 Marist poll reported that 54 percent of all American adults opposed any taxpayer funding of abortion, while only 39 percent did not.
Presidential incumbent Donald Trump had voiced strong support for legal abortion in the years before he ran for president, but professed a change of view. He took on several prominent pro-life advisers and now has strong backing from many Republican and Republican-leaning pro-life advocates.
The Susan B. Anthony List, whose president Marjorie Dannenfelser headed his campaign’s pro-life advisory committee, claimed that Trump has delivered “pro-life wins,” such as his appointment of federal judges believed to be sceptical of pro-abortion rights jurisprudence and his approval of measures that help defund abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.
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