Every year, for more than 40 years, Congress has renewed the Hyde Amendment, which broadly bars the use of federal funds for abortion, except in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is in jeopardy.
But this year, Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, led by the panel’s incoming chairman, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, are making a fresh push to repeal it, driven partly by increasingly restrictive abortion laws at the state level.
At a historic virtual hearing on Tuesday, DeLauro and other critics of the amendment framed their opposition as part of a larger effort to address racial, economic and geographic inequities in health care.
Preventing low-income women from accessing federal Medicaid funds to pay for abortion denies “the humanity of people of color and their ability to do well for their families,” DeLauro said. “Now is the time to empower all women to make deeply personal life decisions without politicians inserting themselves into the doctor’s office.”
DeLauro and other opponents of the amendment have a powerful new ally in the White House: President-elect Joe Biden, who reversed his longstanding support of the Hyde Amendment last year.
But the move to repeal the amendment faces strong opposition from Republicans, who currently control the U.S. Senate.
“I think there would be very little Republican support for [repealing the amendment] in either the House or the Senate,” said Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma and the ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. “So I see this as an effort that is not likely to bear fruit in the next Congress.”
The amendment, named for former Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde, was first passed in 1976 as a rider on the appropriations bill; it has been renewed every year since.
Connecticut’s Medicaid program has covered abortion services using state funding since 1986, following a state Supreme Court decision. Fifteen other states follow similar policies.
DeLauro said 58% of the women prevented from accessing legal abortions are women of color
“Roe vs. Wade is the law of the land yet for too long some women in this country have been denied their right to an abortion,” she said. “The Hyde Amendment is a discriminatory policy, and for more than 40 years it has been routinely extended every year as a legislative rider, but the time has come in this current moment to reckon with the norm, with the status quo, view it through the lens of how it impacts communities of color.”
Several of the experts testifying at the hearing echoed DeLauro’s argument. “The Hyde Amendment builds on a legacy of racism,” said Dr. Herminia Palacio, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, citing the forced sterilization of Black people and other injustices. “It is part of parcel of frankly a wicked web to try and constrain people’s autonomy to make their own choices.”
But critics say it is women of color who are disproportionally hurt by abortion.
“Ending the Hyde Amendment and providing state-funded abortion for low-income women will mean more Black lives lost, especially at this time when our country is facing some very difficult and appropriate conversations about how groups have been treated in the past and continue to be treated today,” Cole said. “We need to be advancing public policies that support women of color and their families, not policies that end the lives of the unborn.”
Christina Bennett, an anti-abortion activist from Connecticut, said nearly 80% of the clinics that provide abortions are located within Black and Latino communities.
At one point, Bennett, who is Black, was asked if it bothered her that abortion rights advocates view the Hyde Amendment as part of a racist legacy in heath care.
“I’m going to speak out for those who have no voice and I really don’t care what people say about me,” said Bennett, a spokeswoman for the Family Institute of Connecticut and the only opponent of legal abortion invited to testify at Tuesday’s hearing.
“I trust Black women, I love Black women, I am a Black woman and I’ve listened to the ones who’ve told me they’ve been hurt by abortions,” she said. “They’ve been pressured to have abortions by their partners, their parents, their professors. I’ve listened to to them and I care and I know that abortion hurts women and families and it’s a moral injustice.”
Abortion has been legal in the U.S. since the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision, but for poor women, access to the medical procedure has been restricted by their inability to pay. (Abortions can cost $500 or more, depending on when and where the procedure is performed.)
Repealing the Hyde Amendment would remedy that by allowing the 40 million women on Medicaid to access government funds to pay for abortions, said Amanda Beatriz Williams, executive director of the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity. “Roe is important but it’s simply not enough,” she said. “Repeal Hyde so everyone can get the care they need, especially communities of color.’’
Daniela Altimari can be reached at [email protected].
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