The Hyde Amendment’s lasting legacy
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Friday, Sept. 30 marks the 40th anniversary of the passing of the Hyde Amendment -- legislation which limits the federal government’s ability to fund abortion through Medicaid. While there may not be a march on Washington as pro-lifers do for the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it is still a milestone worth remembering. The Hyde Amendment was one of the first major legislative victories for the pro-life movement.  More importantly, the Hyde Amendment has become more salient this election cycle. More Democrats are supporting taxpayer funding of abortion and opposing the Hyde Amendment. As such, pro-lifers should redouble their efforts to defend the Hyde Amendment and its lifesaving legacy.  After all, good research shows the Hyde Amendment has literally saved millions of lives in the past 40 years.

Prior to Roe v. Wade, most pro-life political efforts focused on preventing additional states from legalizing abortion and repealing state laws that legalized abortion.  However, after 1973 pro-lifers took an interest in conscience rights and incremental laws that would reduce the incidence of abortion.  In 1976 Congress passed, over a Presidential veto, a rider to the annual Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill – known as the Hyde Amendment – which restricted federal Medicaid funds for abortions.  The Hyde Amendment faced several legal challenges during the 1970s. However, it was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1980 and has been signed into law every subsequent year.

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The original Hyde Amendment only allowed for federal Medicaid funds to pay for abortions that would save the life of the mother. In 1993, when Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBroadway play 'Hillary and Clinton' closing early due to low ticket sales Broadway play 'Hillary and Clinton' closing early due to low ticket sales Campaign dads fit fatherhood between presidential speeches MORE was President, the wording was changed to allow the Medicaid funds to pay for abortions in the case of rape and incest. Now the Hyde Amendment only limits the ability of the federal government to subsidize abortions through Medicaid. Since that time, states have always been able to use their own Medicaid dollars to fund abortion. Currently 15 states pay for therapeutic abortions through Medicaid. In fact, in some of these states the percentage of abortions paid for by Medicaid is as high as 60 percent. This shows the Hyde Amendment is having a large impact in those 35 states that do not subsidize abortion through their state Medicaid program.

The lifesaving impact of the Hyde Amendment is also bolstered by a substantial body of research.  Scholars from a range of ideological perspectives agree that that public funding restrictions reduce abortion rates. In 2009, the Guttmacher Institute, which up until 2007 was Planned Parenthood's research arm, published a literature review on the effects of the Hyde Amendment. Of the 22 studies they considered, 19 found statistically significant evidence that the incidence of abortion fell after Medicaid funding was restricted. Furthermore, three separate, state-level studies found that after the Hyde Amendment took effect, the Medicaid birthrate increased by an average of 13 percent. That means in states not funding abortions through Medicaid, one of nine people born to a mother on Medicaid owe their life to the Hyde Amendment. My own analysis, published by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, estimates that the Hyde Amendment has saved 2.13 million lives since 1976.

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Hyde Amendment in 1980, the abortion rate in the United States has fallen almost every year. The Hyde Amendment is not the only reason for this. Research shows that other pro-life laws, shifts in public opinion, and the fact that a higher percentage of unintended pregnancies are being carried to term are all playing roles in the drop in America’s abortion numbers. That said, the substantial body of research which shows that public funding restrictions reduce the abortion rate demonstrates the Hyde Amendment has played a significant role in America’s abortion decline.

In recent years, the Democratic Party has become increasingly supportive of legal abortion and hostile to the Hyde Amendment. In fact, this summer for the first time ever, the Democratic Party’s Presidential platform explicitly calls for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment.  As such, pro-lifers would do well to redouble our efforts to support the Hyde Amendment. This makes sense politically. Numerous polls and surveys show that strong majorities of Americans oppose having their tax dollars used to pay for abortion.  More importantly, the Hyde Amendment is one of the most effective tools pro-lifers have to protect the unborn. During the past 40 years, it has saved literally millions of lives and merits our continued support.

Michael J. New is a Visiting Associate Professor at Ave Maria University and an Associate Scholar with the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New


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