What is the Hyde Amendment? A look at his impact as Biden reverses his stance

While a wave of highly restrictive state laws has made abortion a key issue in the 2020 campaign, the Hyde Amendment has drawn further scrutiny.

Many presidential candidates had spoken out against the provision before Wednesday, when former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. became the only one to say he supported him, arousing strong criticism. On Thursday, almost all of the other 22 candidates in the Democratic race had formally called for its repeal. Less than 48 hours after its initial declaration, Mr. Biden changed his mind.

Opposition to the amendment is also visible in Congress. A bill to repeal it, known as the EACH Woman Act, has 22 Senate cosponsors and 130 in the house, including eight of the presidential candidates: Senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and Representatives Seth Moulton and Eric Swalwell.

[Behind Biden’s reversal on Hyde Amendment: Lobbying, backlash and an ally’s call.]

Here is an overview of what the amendment does and how the debate on it has developed.

The general response is that this is a measure prohibiting federal funding for abortion. Specifically, it states that Medicaid will not pay for an abortion unless the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

The amendment – named in honor of former Rep. Henry Hyde, Republican of Illinois – was first passed in 1976 as part of the Appropriation Bill for what is now the Department of Health and Social Services, and it is renewed every year, with occasional modifications to the list. exceptions.

Medicaid is a joint federal and state program, and states can cover abortions with their share of the funds. But most don’t.

It’s hard to put a precise number on the number of abortions the Hyde Amendment prevents, but supporters and opponents alike agree that it is substantial.

According to a review of the literature from 2009 through the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, “about a quarter of women who would have Medicaid-funded abortions give birth instead when that funding is not available.” In a 2016 report, the Charlotte Lozier Institute, who opposes abortion, cited studies showing a 13% increase in births among Medicaid recipients after the amendment was passed, and valued that it prevented more than 60,000 abortions per year.

Because Medicaid is primarily a program for low-income Americans, the amendment primarily affects low-income women. People of color are also likely to rely disproportionately on Medicaid.

For those opposed to abortion, the Hyde Amendment is an obvious corollary: if abortion is bad, so is government funding. Anti-abortion activists began pursuing the amendment shortly after the Roe v. Wade in 1973.

But some people who generally support abortion rights also support the amendment because they don’t believe that providing access to abortion is an appropriate use of public funds, or because they are “badly off.” comfortable being complicit in the process with taxpayer dollars, ”Mallory said. Quigley, spokesperson for the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was not uncommon for Democratic politicians to make this argument.

Mr. Biden, as a senator from Delaware, presented a similar case in 1986, tell the UPI, “If it is not the government’s business, then you have to accept this whole concept, which means that you are not outlawing your right to abort and taking your money to help someone. another to have an abortion. “

Because the Hyde Amendment disproportionately affects low-income women and women of color, many opponents see its repeal as a matter of economic and racial justice. In a town hall meeting Wednesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts described the amendment as an attack on those “who are most vulnerable.”

Women with sufficient resources can have abortions even when they are illegal or hard to find, many candidates noted, but under the Hyde Amendment and similar laws, poorer women cannot. . “We have created two classes of citizens when it comes to abortion access in this country,” said Destiny Lopez, co-director of advocacy group All * Above All, which opposes the Hyde Amendment.

Opponents also argue that the amendment strengthens income inequality, as women who cannot afford abortions without Medicaid funding will also find it difficult to afford to raise a child. Ms. Lopez quoted a study which found that women who requested an abortion but could not get it were more likely to live in poverty a year later than women who had an abortion.

It depends on how and who you ask, but polls tend to show that a slim majority of Americans support it.

A Political poll in 2016, asked potential voters if they supported or opposed a federal policy change “to allow Medicaid funds to be used to pay for abortions,” and 58% said they would oppose to this change – in other words, that they supported the Hyde Amendment, although the question did not name it.

A YouGov survey, also in 2016, told interviewees that the Hyde Amendment “prohibits federal funds from being used to fund abortions except in cases of incest, rape, or to save the life of the mother,” and found that 55% of Americans (not just likely voters) supported it.

A Hart Research Associates survey commissioned by All * Above All in 2015 obtained a different result with a rephrased question, advising respondents: “Under current federal policy, if a woman enrolled in the Medicaid low-income health program becomes pregnant and decides carry the pregnancy to term, Medicaid will pay for her pregnancy and childbirth care. Congress currently denies Medicaid coverage for the cost of an abortion. He then found 56% support for a hypothetical bill “that would allow a woman enrolled in Medicaid to have all of her pregnancy-related health care covered by her insurance, including abortion services.”

The change among the main Democrats was sudden, but among the activists there was a lot of groundwork.

After the Supreme Court upheld the amendment in 1980 – ruling in Harris v. McRae that even though the government couldn’t ban abortion, it could use financial incentives to express a preference for childbirth – it became so entrenched in U.S. abortion law that many advocacy groups stopped working. ‘try to repeal it, choosing instead to focus on extending the exceptions.

It was “a hugely successful incrementalist anti-abortion strategy,” said Claire McKinney, assistant professor of government, gender, sexuality and feminist studies at the College of William & Mary, specializing in the history of politics. abortion, “because it changed the debate on what would and would not be included rather than whether it was legitimate to limit access to Medicaid-funded abortions.

Conservatives continue to strongly support the Hyde Amendment as part of their own effort to further restrict abortion laws now that President Trump has cemented a conservative majority in the Supreme Court. Several states, including Alabama, Missouri, and Ohio, have passed laws banning most abortions, in an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The recent change is in part a response to these anti-abortion efforts. But it also stems from decades of organizing women of color through less traditional organizations, like the Black Women’s Health Imperative, said Dorothy Roberts, a professor of law and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania who is active in what. the movement for reproductive justice is called. .

This movement differs from the larger “choices” movement in that it focuses on social and economic factors that can make things like abortion inaccessible even when they are legal. And as women of color have become more prominent voices in mainstream Democratic politics, their political demands have become more influential. In 2016, the Democratic Party added the repeal of the Hyde Amendment to its platform, and the current change stems from the same forces.

“It may sound like a new problem, but it is not a new problem for many people who advocate and organize for reproductive freedom,” said Professor Roberts. “For me, this reflects a growing understanding and adherence to a justice approach as opposed to a choice approach. “

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