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Washington Examiner: Ban on federally funded abortions on chopping block next year

December 10, 2020
News Stories

Washington Examiner - Susan Ferrechio

House Democrats, eyeing the arrival of President-elect Joe Biden in the White House next year, plan to ramp up efforts to repeal a law that bans abortions funded by taxpayers.

Democrats in Congress have long tried to strip Hyde Amendment language from government spending bills. The amendment, named after the late House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, has since 1980 prohibited the use of taxpayer money for most abortions.

But Democrats say that increasing abortion restrictions in states, rising economic difficulties, and a new ally in the White House have renewed calls for lawmakers to make a serious attempt at ending the law in the next Congress.

Incoming House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro held a hearing last week to highlight criticism of the Hyde Amendment and the view that it hurts women — specifically, minority women.

"The Hyde Amendment is a discriminatory policy, and for more than 40 years, it has been routinely extended every year as a legislative rider," said DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat. "But the time has come in this current moment to reckon with the norm, with the status quo, and view it through the lens of how it impacts communities of color."

The effort to eliminate the restriction received the critical endorsement last week from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat and an abortion rights advocate.

"Even before I was in Congress, as soon as that Hyde Amendment was there, I was thinking, 'How can we get rid of that?'" Pelosi told reporters on Dec. 10. "So it's long overdue in getting rid of it, in my view."

Republicans are gearing up for the fight, which is likely to occur in the annual negotiations over government spending.

Democrats have in recent years tried to strip out Hyde language from spending measures but have been blocked because of Republican opposition.

But Democrats see a potential sweep of government that could make enabling taxpayer-funded abortion again a reality.

Biden, who for years backed the Hyde Amendment, announced in June of 2019 that he had reversed his position and was now in favor of eliminating the law.

"If I believe healthcare is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone's ZIP code," Biden explained during a speech to Democratic National Committee members in Atlanta.

With Biden in the White House, only a GOP-led Senate stands firmly in the way of eliminating the Hyde Amendment.

Senate Republicans have a tenuous hold on the majority and must win both seats in a rare pair of runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5. Democrats hope to clinch the two seats and regain the gavel, which would allow them to take up their sweeping agenda, with the Hyde Amendment on the chopping block.

The House Republican Study Committee sent a letter last week to both parties' leaders expressing opposition to undoing the law.

"As part of their pro-abortion crusade, Democrats have taken direct aim at these long-standing, bipartisan protections that generally prevent the federal government from using taxpayer dollars to support abortion procedures," the letter, authored by Chairman Jim Banks, an Indiana Republican, said. "Repealing these pro-life provisions would destroy nearly half a century of bipartisan consensus."

If Democrats manage to retake control of the Senate, there will be loud clamor on the Left to use the government's rare Democratic sweep to get rid of the Hyde Amendment.

The final hurdle for Democrats at that point will be within their party.

The anti-abortion faction of the Democratic Caucus has mostly disappeared. Still, the vulnerable remaining centrists may not be interested in risking their 2022 prospects over a bill undoing the federal ban.

Democrats lost more than a dozen seats in this year's election, while Republicans increased their numbers. The significantly reduced majority will make it harder for Democrats to pass legislation that might lose even a few votes in their caucus.

"I think now that we have a stronger number inside the House, it'll be hard to shift," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said when asked about the Hyde Amendment fight with Democrats.

During the Hyde Amendment hearing last week, Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and a top appropriator, said the federal government, through Medicaid, had funded 300,000 abortions annually before the Hyde Amendment's enactment.

The Hyde Amendment, he said, has saved 2 million lives annually, mostly among minorities.

"Even most people who identify themselves as pro-choice on abortion issues don't want their taxpayer dollars to be used to pay for someone else's abortion," Cole said. "The Hyde Amendment protects the conscience rights of the great majority of Americans who are opposed to publicly funded abortion for religious, moral, or simply fiscal reasons."

Cole said that even if Democrats regain Senate control, the filibuster rule that some Democrats want to eliminate will likely remain in place, which would give the GOP minority an essential tool for blocking legislation that the party opposes.

"I see this as an effort that is not likely to bear fruit in the next Congress," Cole said.

Online: Washington Examiner

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