The Hyde Amendment in Peril

by Sophie Trist



When President Biden released the first draft of his federal budget proposal on May 28, it lacked a long-standing, overwhelmingly popular, and crucial pro-life protection: the Hyde Amendment. Named for the late Illinois congressman Henry Hyde, this amendment has prevented federal tax dollars from paying for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment since 1976. The Hyde Amendment is not a federal law. Rather, it is a rider attached to each appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services, so it must be approved every year. After supporting Hyde for decades, President Joe Biden bowed to pressure from abortion advocates and reversed his position during his presidential campaign, putting this critical pro-life protection in real danger for the first time in 45 years. Repealing the Hyde Amendment is a long-time goal of the abortion industry, with opponents calling it racist and classist. But the truth is that the Hyde Amendment has done more than any other piece of pro-life legislation to save lives, particularly those of low-income children and children of color.


In the three years between when Roe v. Wade was decided and the introduction of the Hyde Amendment, the federal government paid for an estimated 900,000 abortions through Medicaid and other programs, costing American taxpayers between $45-55 million annually. Hundreds of millions of dollars which could have funded true healthcare instead subsidized the killing of preborn children. Abortion rates have lowered dramatically since the 1970s, partly thanks to the Hyde Amendment.


The Charlotte Lozier Institute estimates that by blocking federal funds from going toward abortions, the Hyde Amendment has saved around 2.4 million lives. Even the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute acknowledges that one-quarter of children born to parents on Medicaid, many of whom are people of color, owe their lives to the Hyde Amendment. In my home state of Louisiana alone, Hyde saves an estimated 3,000 lives a year. Roughly 10% of Louisiana pregnancies end in abortion, and the aforementioned study estimates that if Hyde restrictions did not apply, that number would rise to 14%. According to 2017 data, states that do not use state Medicaid funds to cover abortion have pregnancy termination rates of between 5 and 15%, while states that do subsidize abortions have much higher rates of between 20 and 30%. Millions of unique, irreplaceable, infinitely valuable people are alive today because our federal tax dollars do not fund abortions.


In addition to saving lives and protecting the rights of pro-life Americans, who make up nearly 50% of the population, the Hyde Amendment is very popular. Even Slate Magazine , not exactly known for pro-life sympathies, acknowledges that 60% of Americans support Hyde. While women are more likely than men to support most welfare programs, this gender gap disappears when polls ask about abortion. Women are almost as likely to oppose public funding of abortion as men, with 41% of Democratic women supporting the Hyde Amendment.


Interestingly, wealthier, white people are statistically more likely to support public funding for abortion than those most directly impacted by it. According to one poll, high-income voters were almost twice as likely as low-income voters to support Medicaid-funded abortion. A separate study asking specifically about the Hyde Amendment found that white women with college degrees were twice as likely to support taxpayer-funded abortions as those without college degrees. The evidence could not be clearer. The populations most affected by Hyde want real, life-affirming healthcare, not more financial incentives for abortion.


Repealing Hyde would have a devastating impact on marginalized communities. Due to structural inequalities in American society, the majority of non-elderly women who rely on Medicaid are Black, indigenous, people of color, or disabled. It is no secret that health insurance providers, both private and public, often seek the cheapest solutions, and in this instance, a $500 abortion is far cheaper than the price of giving birth to and raising a child. Allowing the federal government to pay for elective abortions runs the risk of seeing BIPOC and disabled women pressured into getting even more abortions. In the wise words of pro-life and racial justice activist Christina Bennett, “there are disturbing racial implications to the federal government offering to fund a low-income woman's abortion, but not her yearly dental exam.” The Hyde Amendment is critical to protecting communities of color.


The once-bipartisan Hyde Amendment, supported by the majority of Americans, has never been in more danger. It is critical that every pro-life American, regardless of political affiliation, rallies to save Hyde before the federal budget is finalized. Funding violence against the smallest, most vulnerable members of our human family is the polar opposite of expanding human rights.


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