Democrats and abortion activists are renewing the call to end the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion. Instead, they want tax dollars to go towards a woman’s “deeply personal life decisions.” But when American taxpayers are forced to pay for that decision, abortion – the ending of a human life – surfaces as a public matter in a very obvious way.
On December 8, the House Appropriations Committee held a nearly three-hour hearing on “The Impact on Women Seeking an Abortion but are Denied Because of an Inability to Pay.” House Democrats and abortion activists centered their remarks around the same argument: that Hyde is a racist policy that targets low-income women of color.
First introduced in 1976, the Hyde Amendment bans federal funding – taxpayer dollars – from going towards abortion, with the exceptions of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. The legislative provision, approved annually by Congress, largely impacts Medicaid recipients. But because Medicaid is both a federal and state program, states can still choose to fund abortions on their own.
Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, Democratic representative of Connecticut, set the tone for the hearing by urging participants to see the “discriminatory policy” through the “lens of how it impacts communities of color.”
Thirty-three states and Washington, D.C. “deny state funding to women seeking access to abortion,” she warned. “As a result, the millions of economically insecure women in these states are hostage to their geography.”
But this would soon change, she predicted.
“While the Labor, HHS, Education bill has carried the Hyde Amendment every year since 1976, this is the last year,” she concluded. “Now is the time to empower all women to be able to make deeply personal life decisions without politicians inserting themselves into the doctor’s office.” Personal life decisions paid by the public, that is.
Rep. DeLauro is right that the sentiment surrounding Hyde – among Democrats – is changing. Joe Biden, who voted repeatedly against abortion for decades, flipped on the issue as he prepared for the 2020 election and ran on the Democratic Party platform that calls to “repeal the Hyde Amendment.” He condemned Hyde last year – the day after he reaffirmed his support for it.
But Americans feel differently. According to a Knights of Columbus/Marist poll published earlier this year, six in 10 Americans oppose using tax dollars to pay for abortion.
During the hearing, ranking member Tom Cole, Republican representative of Oklahoma, announced his “unwavering support” for Hyde.
“Refusing to cooperate with or pay for the destruction of someone’s child is not an action against that person, but for them and their community,” he said. “Americans should want life for poor women, women of color, and all women and their children.”
“Supporters of abortion should also question whether the promotion of abortion is itself structurally racist since it disproportionally affects people of color,” he added.
A CDC report released last month compiled data from 31 areas that reported race/ethnicity data for 2018. It found that “non-Hispanic White women and non-Hispanic Black women accounted for the largest percentages of all abortions (38.7 percent and 33.6 percent, respectively),” while “non-Hispanic Black women” had the highest abortion rate and ratio.This, even though African-Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population.
But the other Democrats echoed Rep. DeLauro. Chairwoman Nita Lowey of New York agreed that Hyde “continues to impose judgement and bully low-income women, with a disproportionate impact on women of color.”
“It is my fervent wish that the next Congress will correct this historical inequity,” she said, which “deserves to be in the dustbin of history.”
The event invited four witnesses to testify: Dr. Herminia Palacio, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, Dr. Jamila Perritt, president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health, Amanda Beatriz Williams, executive director of the Lilith Fund, and Christina Bennett, communications director of the Family Institute of Connecticut. Of the four, only Bennett represented the pro-life position.
Palacio spoke first, describing the “harmful burdens of the Hyde Amendment” as “intentionally and unjustly imposed on black and brown people and on people with low incomes.”
She called Hyde a “racist policy” because, among other reasons, “black and brown women are disproportionately likely to be insured through Medicaid.”
Like Rep. DeLauro, she argued that abortion is a private choice – even if the public pay for it.
Hyde is “part and parcel of a frankly wicked web to try to constrain people’s autonomy to make their own choices,” she added later.
In agreement, Perritt urged that Hyde “denies my patients the ability to make decisions about their bodies and their pregnancies because of where they live and how much they make.”
Williams used similar language, saying that she wanted everyone to be able to “get the abortion care they need safely and without political interference.”
As the sole pro-life witness, Bennett argued that Hyde protected women from racism – and saved lives, rather than harmed them. According to Dr. Michael New at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, Hyde has saved more than 2.4 million lives.
“The Hyde Amendment is accused of being racist, but it’s not racist to preserve black lives,” she stressed. “Hyde protects women from an industry that is actually rooted in racism with a documented history of eugenics-philosophy population control and the unlawful targeting of the black community.”
“Abortion on demand is a band-aid to the wound that economic and health disparaities that cause women to seek abortion,” she concluded.
She and Rep. Cole called for more support for pregnant women to choose life by focusing on different issues: better health care, prenatal care, housing, paid leave, more childcare options – services which many pregnancy centers provide for free.
Taxpayer funding makes abortion a very public issue. Then again, abortion can never be a private issue because the intentional destruction of innocent human life is something that threatens a thriving society – and contributes to a throwaway culture where human persons of inherent dignity and worth are considered disposable.