Editor's Note: This column was co-authored by Tessa Longbons.
“Taxation Without Representation,” read the slogan on the D.C. license plate of the presidential limousine at Joe Biden’s inauguration. If Biden and congressional allies get their wish list for this year’s federal budget, the District’s new catchphrase soon could be “Taxation for Abortion on Demand” – and the devastation would be felt both inside the Beltway and beyond.
That’s because Biden’s proposed budget excludes the Dornan Amendment, also known as the D.C. Hyde Amendment – one of a family of about two dozen longstanding federal policies that help keep taxpayers out of the abortion business. The Dornan Amendment specifically ensures that the District of Columbia does not use taxpayer dollars to fund elective abortion.
For more than four decades, policies that prevent tax dollars from subsidizing abortion have enjoyed bipartisan support, including from then-Senator Biden. There’s a broad consensus that they are effective in saving lives by reducing abortion – nearly 2.5 million people are here today thanks to the Hyde Amendment.
But Biden now caters to the most extreme pro-abortion voices in his party and has campaign promises to keep to an industry that spent millions to elect him. House Democrats likewise have the Dornan Amendment in their crosshairs. Their dream budget would unravel these vital protections – forcing taxpayers to pay for unlimited abortions, even up to birth, against the will of most Americans.
Already the District is an extreme outlier, with no limits whatsoever on how late in pregnancy a child can be aborted or why – in fact, D.C. abortion centers advertise abortion into the third trimester. In contrast to most European countries that limit abortion at or before 15 weeks, Supreme Court edicts make the United States one of only a handful of nations in the world that allow late-term abortion for any reason more than halfway through pregnancy – when abortion becomes exponentially more dangerous to women.
Currently because of the Hyde Amendment, Dornan’s better-known relative, no federal Medicaid dollars can be used for elective abortions (another policy Biden’s budget would eliminate). However, 17 states use their own taxpayer funds to pay for elective abortions for Medicaid enrollees, including the District’s close neighbor, Maryland.
Dornan critics argue that “local” funding for abortion should be allowed. But because D.C.’s budget is set by and funded in part by Congress, this is a distinction without a difference for taxpayers.
Funneling taxpayer money to the abortion industry would likely increase abortions in the District, which already has a higher abortion rate than that of any state. In 2010, a weakened version of the Dornan Amendment enabled D.C. to fund 300 abortions before the full amendment was reinstated. If it were scrapped completely and permanently today, taxpayers could immediately end up paying for as many as 1,500 abortions each year.
Minority communities would be hardest hit, as D.C.’s non-Hispanic Black abortion rate is more than three times higher than the non-Hispanic white rate, according to data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. On top of its astronomical abortion rate, the District has one of the nation’s worst maternal mortality rates, especially for Black women - and time and again, D.C. has turned a blind eye to the abysmal conditions of its abortion centers.
Without Dornan, tax dollars would flow straight to D.C. abortion centers where women have been gravely injured – like those of Steven Chase Brigham, who has had his medical license revoked in multiple states. At one illegal, unlicensed facility in Maryland run by Brigham, an 18-year-old suffered a severely botched abortion; the same incident led to Brigham and an employee facing charges of murdering viable babies. A D.C. center connected with Brigham now performs abortions through 36 weeks. There’s also late-term abortionist Cesare Santangelo, who admitted in a 2013 undercover video that if a baby was born alive as a result of a failed abortion, “We would not help it.” The woman Santangelo told this, believing her to be a potential client, was six months pregnant.
As residents of D.C. (Tessa Longbons) and Virginia (Marjorie Dannenfelser), we strongly believe families everywhere deserve better. Scrapping the Dornan Amendment does nothing to address real health care disparities – it exacerbates them. Expanding taxpayer-funded abortion will hurt women, just as it has across the country, and send the message that the lives of all children do not merit equal protection.
As Joe Biden himself has famously said, “Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” The president’s budget proposal directly contradicts the values of the overwhelming majority of Americans who oppose taxpayer-funded abortion. The Dornan Amendment has done an invaluable service for Americans both inside the District and out. As Congress goes through the appropriations markup process, it ought to be easy to reject taxation for abortion on demand.
Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of the national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List. Tessa Longbons is a research associate with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.