Healthcare

Dem support grows for allowing public funds to pay for abortions

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Support is growing among Democrats in Congress for allowing abortion coverage in publicly funded health programs.

House Democrats, who say they have a “pro-choice majority” for the first time in history, are vowing to end a long-standing ban of abortion coverage in Medicaid called the Hyde Amendment.

They also want to ensure that future government health care plans mandate abortion coverage.

{mosads}“I actually think we have the American people with us,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a co-sponsor of a bill to eliminate the Hyde amendment and a sponsor of a Medicare for All bill that mandates abortion coverage.

“If you look at the power of women voters, Republicans and Democrats and independents, people want to be able to get their reproductive services, they don’t want the government interfering with their decision about what they do with their body.”

The Hyde Amendment is attached annually to government spending bills, forbidding the use of public funds for the procedure in Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and other health programs, except in limited circumstances.

While the amendment was introduced with bipartisan support in 1976, it has become a partisan issue in recent years, supported by Republicans but loathed by many Democrats. 

Opponents argue that it makes abortion inaccessible for low-income women, with a disproportionate impact on racial minorities.

Now, with Democrats in control of the House, opponents may have a chance to strip the amendment from an upcoming spending bill, which would set up a showdown with the GOP Senate.

“When they try to put these pieces of anti-choice legislation in bills, we can block it,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus. 

“[Republicans] attempted many, many times over to defund Planned Parenthood, to put these restrictive anti-choice amendments into spending bills. We’re going to stop that.” 

A bill sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) that would permanently repeal the Hyde Amendment had 137 supporters in the last Congress, and a Senate version was introduced for the first time two weeks ago by Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). 

Neither bill will become law this year, but it shows the path the party hopes to take if it wins control of the White House and the Senate in 2020 or beyond.

“The issue of repealing Hyde was considered a far-left issue for a really long time. Something folks didn’t want to talk about on [Capitol Hill],” said Destiny Lopez, co-director of the All Above All Action Fund, a group focused on repealing the Hyde Amendment. 

“I think there’s been a series of external forces that have really made it possible for champions of reproductive justice to be more open on this issue, and they’ve really stepped up to lead in a vocal way. What we’re trying to do is really help people understand you can’t support abortion rights and not support repealing the Hyde Amendment,” she said.

Anti-abortion groups say Democrats are playing into their hands.

“The other most important issue to voters, when we go door to door, is the taxpayer funding of abortion,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a national group that works to elect anti-abortion politicians. 

“Our opinion is if that’s what Democrats want to talk about, keep talking about it. We want to make sure everyone knows what their position is, and we’ll win.” 

A range of high-profile Democrats support repealing the Hyde Amendment, including several 2020 presidential candidates such as Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has previously called for its repeal. The Democratic National Committee also backed a repeal of the Hyde Amendment in its 2016 platform. 

The idea of publicly funded abortion was once a more divisive issue among Democrats.

The Affordable Care Act almost didn’t pass because anti-abortion Democrats wanted restrictions on funding for plans that cover abortions. 

Today, there are only four House Democrats who identify as anti-abortion. 

Democrats are far from united on health care reform, but in the House, at least, there is near unanimity that health care legislation should cover abortion. 

“The current legislation for Medicare for All would cover abortion as an essential health care component, and I think that would as a necessity be in any legislation we would pass in the future,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), co-chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus. 

Tags Abortion Barbara Lee Diana DeGette Judy Chu Kirsten Gillibrand Medicaid Nancy Pelosi ObamaCare Pramila Jayapal Tammy Duckworth

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