The progressive case for the Hyde Amendment
Since 1976 under President Jimmy Carter, all appropriations bills passed through Congress have come with a rider, the Hyde Amendment, which bans taxpayer funding of abortion. Even throughout all eight years of the Obama administration, the Hyde Amendment was consistently included in spending bills.
In the next month, though, if some members of Congress have their way, that 45-year streak may come to an end. A draft of a COVID relief proposal released last week omits Hyde Amendment protections. It could, for the first time in nearly half a century, fund abortions through a provision to support community health services.
As Democrats and liberals, we are appalled that members of our party are using a bill as important as this one to repeal a compromise that 6 in 10 American women support.
Introducing such a divisive policy is a poor platform for building national unity. The Hyde Amendment is so popular with the American public that Slate summarizes it as follows: “In every poll, a plurality of Americans opposes public funding of abortions. In every poll but one, that plurality is a majority.”
The Hyde Amendment is so popular that its repeal could frustrate the entire Democratic legislative agenda: from climate change to health care reform. If House Democrats want to lose their majority in 2022, repealing a policy that two-thirds of Independents support is a sure way to do so.
The Hyde Amendment, of course, is popular because it protects conscience rights for taxpayers. Allowing abortion is one thing. Forcing the taxpayer to fund it is quite another, a distinction that Joe Biden acknowledged for most of his political career. And contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just conservative evangelicals who oppose taxpayer-funded abortion. One of us is a Catholic liberal. The other? An atheist. At least 20 million Democrats in this country identify as pro-life, as do six million non-religious Americans.
As Democrats, we also believe that repealing the Hyde Amendment is bad policy. Along with 78 percent of Democrats, we believe that laws can protect both the health and well-being of the mother, as well as the life of the pre-born child.
Fundamentally, we believe in fighting for solutions that affirm life, rather than ending it. We support a broad spectrum of solutions to address crisis pregnancies: government-funded health care, racial equity initiatives, and a stronger social safety net. In particular, Congress should fund decisive action to address the Black maternal mortality crisis in this country.
If we listened to low-income women, we would hear that they are actually more likely to identify as pro-life. Likewise, their children, whose lives were saved by the Hyde Amendment, are speaking out in favor of health care, not abortion.
The stark socioeconomic gap between those who do and do not support taxpayer-funded abortion makes it particularly problematic. For example, white women with a college degree are almost twice as likely to support taxpayer-funded abortion as those without.
Since the people that this policy actually impacts aren’t pushing for its repeal, we should ask ourselves hard questions about why it constitutes such a high priority. The answer, unfortunately, lies in the interests of the $3 billion abortion industry and the lobby groups who pad the wallets of their Democratic supporters.
We recall the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, a proud Democrat and civil rights activist, who was born into poverty and strongly opposed abortion: “I think these children have a right to live. And I think that these mothers have a right to support them in a decent way.”
Repealing the Hyde Amendment is bad politics and worse policy.
The Democratic Party should focus on real solutions to crisis pregnancies, rather than selling out its legislative agenda.
Terrisa Bukovinac, a feminist and atheist, is president of Democrats for Life of America and founder of Pro-Life San Francisco. Xavier Bisits is vice president of Democrats for Life of America.