2020 Democrats target federal ban on abortion funding

2020 Democrats target federal ban on abortion funding
© Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidates are seizing on the intensifying abortion debate by calling for an end to a 43-year ban on the use of federal funds for abortions.

Twenty-one of the 24 Democrats running for president say they support repealing the so-called Hyde amendment, which has prevented government health programs like Medicaid from paying for abortions, in most cases, since 1976. 

“I think the Hyde Amendment should be repealed and that we actually need to make sure that women, regardless of their income level, have a basic right to reproductive care,” Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate Gillibrand unveils mental health plan MORE (D-N.Y.) told MSNBC this past week. “It’s about our humanity and our basic civil rights.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The support from candidates come as more states pass laws blocking women from getting abortions after certain points in a pregnancy, part of a legal strategy by conservatives to increase the odds of the Supreme Court revisiting Roe v. Wade.

In response, some White House hopefuls, including Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate MORE (D-N.J.), Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Keystone XL Pipeline gets nod from Nebraska Supreme Court MORE (D-Mass.) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas.), have released their plans to protect abortion access that call for an end to the Hyde amendment.

“We'll do away with the Hyde amendment, so that ensures that regardless of your income or your ZIP Code you are able to access a safe, legal abortion,” O’Rourke said during a CNN town hall this past week.

The movement to end the decades-old federal ban, led in large part by women of color and abortion-rights groups, has gained prominence in recent years.

The 2016 Democratic National Committee (DNC) platform was the first time the party made repealing the Hyde amendment a priority, and former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces DHS cyber agency to prioritize election security, Chinese threats ABC chose a debate moderator who hates Trump MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Keystone XL Pipeline gets nod from Nebraska Supreme Court MORE (I-Vt.) were the first Democratic presidential candidates to make the issue part of their campaigns. 

But this time around candidates are putting the issue front and center in response to efforts to restrict abortion access at the state level. They are also drawing attention to how such bans disproportionately affect low-income women of color.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I have not seen this much support before, which is really amazing and fascinating to see,” said Jamila Taylor, director of women’s health and rights at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington that supports ending the Hyde amendment.

“To me, these candidates recognize that not only do we need to protect abortion rights, we also need to ensure that women have access to abortion care and abortion coverage through their health insurance,” she said. 

Of the party’s 24 candidates, only three have not commented on the Hyde amendment or have not signed on to legislation that would repeal it: Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Morning Report: How will Trump be received at G-7? Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate MORE (D-Hawaii), former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democratic field narrows with Inslee exit The Hill's Morning Report - Trump touts new immigration policy, backtracks on tax cuts MORE (D-Md.) and best-selling spiritual author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch ABC unveils moderators for third Democratic debate Williamson unveils plan to create Cabinet-level Department of Peace MORE.

Even former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Moulton says Biden would make 'fantastic president' MORE, who supported the Hyde amendment while serving in Congress, told an American Civil Liberties Union volunteer that he now wants to end it.

“It can’t stay,” he said.

Because the Hyde amendment has been attached to government spending bills every year since 1976, eliminating it would require congressional support.

The policy has survived so long because government funding of abortion is a nonstarter for Republicans, as well as some Democrats, both on and off Capitol Hill.

Former President Obama waffled on the issue. He included the Hyde amendment in all of his budget requests to Congress, and inserted a similar version of it in the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

But the Democratic Party has changed since then.

In addition to the DNC changing its platform in 2016, this year 126 House Democrats signed on to a bill introduced in March that would permanently eliminate the Hyde amendment.

But while many Democrats want to repeal the amendment, Republicans want to make it permanent.

A measure sponsored by Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerWill Congress act to stop robocalls? Hillicon Valley: Trump reportedly weighing executive action on alleged tech bias | WH to convene summit on online extremism | Federal agencies banned from buying Huawei equipment | Lawmakers jump start privacy talks The Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? MORE (R-Miss.) known as the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, failed in the Senate in January but would have written the Hyde amendment into federal law so that it doesn’t need to be renewed each year.

Passing the legislation remains a priority for congressional Republicans, anti-abortion groups and President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE, a position that in many ways helps keep the issue on the front burner for Democrats hoping to challenge Trump next year.

In the meantime, opponents of the ban say the debate is shining a light on how the policy mostly hurts poor women of color who rely on Medicaid for health care.

“It's really important that we're starting to bring that conversation out to the forefront and to really explain that there is no real ‘choice’ if so many people can't access abortion,” said Lindsay Rodriguez, communications director for the National Network of Abortion Funds, which has long pushed for a repeal of the Hyde amendment.

“It’s really unjust to tell people that the folks that have the least amount of financial resources or who are getting their benefits through the government are unable to access this one type of health care.”