Senate Democrats ditch Hyde amendment for first time in decades

Senate Democrats on Monday for the first time in decades left out an amendment from their annual government funding bills that blocks people from using Medicaid or other federal health programs to cover abortion services.

The provision, also known as the Hyde amendment, was omitted from legislation to fund the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education departments. The bill was unveiled by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Monday afternoon.

The Hyde amendment bans the use of federal funds for abortions in most cases and has been included in annual government funding bills since it was introduced by then-Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) in the 1970s.

The bill also did not include the Weldon amendment, which bars entities that don’t want to provide abortion care from being denied federal dollars, or an amendment to block federal funds from being used for abortions specifically in Washington, D.C.

The bill’s introduction on Monday comes months after history was made earlier this year when the House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee also advanced the Department of Health and Human Services spending bill without the provision for the first time in decades.

The amendment was also noticeably left out of the multitrillion-dollar budget President Biden unveiled earlier this year. Biden previously supported the Hyde amendment but reversed his position after drawing criticism during his presidential campaign in 2019.

“Every single person deserves to make their own decisions about pregnancy and parenting — but right now, the unacceptable reality is that the choices available to you still depend on your income, your zip code, or how you get your health insurance,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who chairs subcommittee, said in a statement.

“Right now, too many people can’t exercise their right to an abortion because of federal abortion coverage restrictions, or can’t afford the family planning services they need. That’s unfair and unjust—especially for women who have low incomes and people of color. We’ve got to do better,” she continued.

The absence of the abortion amendments from the recent batch of government funding bills was met with instant opposition from Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, who criticized Democrats for removing “important legacy riders” in abortion and other funding areas in the legislation. 

However, the move has also already gotten some applause from abortion rights groups.

Destiny Lopez, co-president of abortion rights group All Above All, said in a statement that her organization was “gratified to at last see a spending bill in the Senate without the Hyde Amendment and without D.C.’s ban on abortion coverage.”

“Senators recognize the harms of this cruel policy and make it clear that the time for these discriminatory, unjust policies is behind us,” she said. “It is thanks to the tireless efforts of women of color and the champions in the halls of Congress, especially Senators Patty Murray, Tammy Duckworth, and Mazie K. Hirono, that this historic step is made possible.”

Advocates and Democratic lawmakers who oppose the Hyde amendment have called it discriminatory against low-income women who depend on federal funding for health care and say it puts a disproportionate burden on women of color.

But supporters of the amendment have said it’s necessary to keep taxpayer dollars from going to abortion.

Still, the new spending bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Democrats need to notch at least 10 Republican votes to pass the appropriations measure later this year. 

And despite a growing push by Democrats over the years to do away with the amendment, Republicans will also likely find some support from the other side of the aisle, as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) have backed the provision in recent comments.

Tags Joe Biden Joe Manchin Patrick Leahy Patty Murray Richard Shelby Tammy Duckworth Tim Kaine

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