When the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act” on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade—a critical bill that would comprehensively and permanently restrict federal taxpayer funding and insurance coverage for abortion as a matter of federal law—many media outlets joined the bill’s opponents in scoffing at the effort.  After all, they reasoned, the bill has passed the House before, and only received a vote because another pro-life bill was held back in the eleventh hour.  They claimed the bill was a “consolation prize” for pro-life Americans. 

In reality, it is difficult to overstate the significance of this lifesaving measure, making opponents’ spin about the bill—and about the nature of existing restrictions on federal taxpayer funding for abortion—all the more exasperating. 

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Despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans oppose the use of federal tax dollars for abortion, the abortion lobby zealously and consistently advocates for it alongside their vocal supporters on Capitol Hill. 

For example, just last month, twenty members of the House Committee on the Budget and the House Committee on Appropriations sent a letter to the director of the Office of Management and Budget requesting that all abortion funding restrictions be removed from the Fiscal Year 2016 budget.  While these members are in the minority, their advocacy increases the risk that a restriction could be removed and abortion funding could slip under the radar.

While longstanding federal policy has restricted the use of taxpayer funds for most abortions, most Americans would be surprised to learn that no federal law permanently applies this “policy” to all federal funds. Instead, this policy is implemented through a patchwork of annual appropriations “riders,” as well as regulations and executive orders. 

For example, Congress has annually renewed the Hyde Amendment for nearly four decades.  The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of funds appropriated through the Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) appropriations bill to pay for most abortions or abortion coverage.

The Hyde Amendment, however, like other appropriations riders that restrict abortion funding, applies only to a specific funding stream, not to all federal funding. This policy patchwork is riddled with loopholes, and requires reenacting these provisions annually.  The reoccurring debates over these riders waste lawmakers’ time and expose widely supported restrictions to attacks.

The “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” is significant because it would eliminate the need for Congress every year to pass the Hyde Amendment and similar appropriations riders.  In addition to making existing riders permanent in law, it would apply across the entire federal government. 

For example, the bill would close abortion-funding loopholes created by the “Affordable Care Act” (ACA) that have opened the door to direct taxpayer funding for abortion.  

Ultimately, why is restricting taxpayer funding for abortion important to millions of Americans?   Americans personally opposed to abortion do not want their tax dollars paying for the procedure, but more importantly, abortion funding restrictions save lives.

Most of the babies saved by abortion funding restrictions are the children of women on public assistance—women who deserve support and encouragement to help them bring their children into the world.

In a 2007 policy review for the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, Heather D. Boonstra laments that “the most tragic result” of the Hyde Amendment “is that a significant number of women who would have had an abortion had it been paid for by Medicaid instead end up continuing their pregnancy.” 

Boonstra cites studies demonstrating the effect that restrictions on public funding have on abortion rates—two decades of studies showed that 18 to 35 percent of women who would have had an abortion continued their pregnancies after losing Medicaid funding. Another study similarly showed that about one-third of women who would have had an abortion if it were publicly funded gave birth to their babies.

But for the Hyde Amendment’s restrictions on Medicaid funding for abortions, these babies would have lost their lives and their mothers would have faced the physical and psychological risks that abortions present.  The “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” will permanently ensure that taxpayers are not pushing women who need financial support towards abortion.

Many in the media suffer from a chronic inability or unwillingness to accurately represent the limited and temporary scope of the current tools used to prohibit taxpayer funding for abortion.  Such imprecise reporting could weaken public interest in fighting for a permanent law. 

Do not be deceived—the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion” Act is desperately needed, and it is no consolation prize.   In fact, if you asked a child whose life was spared because of an abortion funding restriction, he or she would likely tell you that this bill is the gold medal. 

Harned is staff counsel for Americans United for Life.