“We believe that the Hyde Amendment has proven itself to be the greatest domestic abortion reduction law ever enacted by Congress.”
Douglas Johnson, National Right to Life, Federal Legislation Director
2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the “Hyde Amendment,” named for pro-life champion the late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Il). The Hyde Amendment is conservatively credited with saving the lives of over a million people.
First enacted in 1976, the Hyde Amendment is a provision attached to the annual appropriations bill that covers many federal health programs (including Medicaid). The Hyde Amendment currently prohibits the use of federal funds in those programs for abortion, except in the cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.
As National Right to Life Federal Legislation Director Douglas Johnson testified at a congressional hearing in 2011, the battle over federal funding of abortion did not begin in 1976.
It “became an issue soon after the U.S. Supreme Court, in its 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, invalidated the laws protecting unborn children from abortion in all 50 states,” Johnson told the Health Subcommittee of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, U.S. House of Representatives. “The federal Medicaid statutes had been enacted years before that ruling, and the statutes made no reference to abortion, which was not surprising, since criminal laws generally prohibited the practice. Yet by 1976, the federal Medicaid program was paying for about 300,000 elective abortions annually, and the number was increasing rapidly.
“That is why it was necessary for Congressman Hyde to offer, beginning in 1976, his limitation amendment to the annual Health and Human Services appropriations bill, to prohibit the use of funds that flow through that annual appropriations bill from being used for abortions.” Initially blocked by a federal judge, the Hyde Amendment was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1980 in Harris v. McRae by the narrowest of margins, 5-4. The justices said Congress could distinguish between abortion and “other medical procedures” because “no other procedure involves the purposeful termination of a potential life.”
While the Supreme Court did not back away even a little from its 1973 conclusion that a woman had a right under the Constitution to an abortion, the justices concluded the government was not required to fund the exercise of that right.
At a press conference following release of the Harris ruling, Hyde said “Since that fateful decision [Roe v. Wade], millions of my fellow citizens have struggled tirelessly to reverse what the Court did, and to stop by any means available the terrible slaughter of the innocents that the Court’s decision unleashed. I am proud to have been a part of this historic effort, and happy to have had my name associated with one part of it, namely the legislation to limit spending of tax monies to pay for abortions. …
“What today’s decision really means is life for countless unborn children, just as surely as unrestricted abortion means death for them. So the true victors [unborn children] don’t even know about the battle, much less the victory.”
In his 2011 testimony, NRLC’s Johnson documented the lifesaving impact of the Hyde Amendment: “There is abundant empirical evidence that where government funding for abortion is not available under Medicaid or the state equivalent program, at least one-fourth of the Medicaid-eligible women carry their babies to term, who would otherwise procure federally funded abortions. … it means that well over one million Americans are walking around alive today because of the Hyde Amendment. … We believe that the Hyde Amendment has proven itself to be the greatest domestic abortion reduction law ever enacted by Congress.”
Hillary Clinton wants to overturn the Hyde Amendment. But polls show 68 percent of Americans oppose federal funding of abortion.
As noted, the Hyde Amendment is a limitation that is attached to an annual appropriations bill. As such it must be renewed each year by Congress, which means that pro-abortion forces in Congress can and sometimes do launch efforts to try to prevent its renewal. Because there are never, ever enough abortions for the likes of Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood, overturning the Hyde Amendment remains a high priority, one to which pro-abortionists have returned with renewed vigor. Back in January when Clinton accepted Planned Parenthood’s first ever presidential primary endorsement, she touched all the bases.
“Any right that requires you to take extraordinary measures to access it is no right at all,” she intoned at a New Hampshire rally, and that included “laws on the book like the Hyde Amendment making it harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”
Asked at an Iowa Brown and Black Forum this year if she would support congressional efforts to repeal the Hyde Amendment, Clinton said yes, adding (according to Katie McDonough), “And actually I have for a very long time.”
This was just what Kierra Johnson, executive director of Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, wanted to hear. She told Slate magazine in January, “We are thrilled that pro-choice champions are no longer accepting the Hyde Amendment as the status quo.”
Yet theirs is a minority opinion, if ever there was one. Strong majorities have long opposed federal funding of abortion. In a Marist poll conducted for the Knights of Columbus released just prior to the 2016 March for Life, “nearly 7 in 10 Americans (68 percent), including 69 percent of women, oppose taxpayer funding of abortion,” according to the poll’s summary. “This includes 51 percent of those who consider themselves pro-choice. Fewer than 3 in 10 Americans (29 percent) support it.”
Reprinted with permission from the National Right to Life News web site.