Democratic leaders during a House of Representatives committee hearing on Tuesday promoted taxpayer funding of abortion and urged the repeal of a federal law that prohibits it, saying such a policy is “discriminatory” and harms minority communities.
Republicans and pro-lifers, though, said the policy protects such communities.
At issue is the Hyde Amendment, a legislative provision dating back to the 1970s that prohibits federal funds from being used for abortions. It originally passed a Democratic-controlled House and Senate just a few years after Roe v. Wade and has been backed publicly by Democratic presidents, including Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama. Joe Biden, though, opposes it.
The current version allows for exceptions for rape, incest and to save the mother’s life. A Marist survey this year showed that 60 percent of Americans oppose “using tax dollars to pay for a woman’s abortion.”
The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday held a hearing to examine the impact of the Hyde Amendment and to urge its repeal.
“Roe vs. Wade is the law of the land, yet for too long, some women in this country have been denied their right to an abortion,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said. “The Hyde Amendment is a discriminatory policy, and for more than 40 years it has been routinely extended every year as a legislative rider. 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.”
A total of 33 states, she said, prohibit state funding of abortion.
“As a result, the millions of economically insecure women in these states are hostage to their geography. For the women in these states covered by Medicaid, the Hyde Amendment has a tremendous impact on their economic, mental and physical well-being,” DeLauro said.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who is in her final weeks in Congress after retiring, said the Hyde Amendment and other restrictions “continue to attack the dignity of low-income Americans.”
“Regardless of what we feel about the issue of abortion, it is well past time that we, as members of this great committee, discuss the harmful legacy of the Hyde Amendment,” Lowey said. “... It is my fervent wish that the next Congress will correct this historic inequity in women's health care and remove Hyde once and for all. It deserves to be in the dustbin of history with other policies that were designed to limit the rights of the powerless.”
But Christina Bennett, communications director for the Family Institute of Connecticut, defended the Hyde Amendment, saying abortion “disproportionally” impacts the black community. Bennett is black.
“Black women are just 14 percent of the childbearing population [but] we are three times more likely to abort, and we make up over 36 percent of the abortions,” she told the committee. “Repealing Hyde would lead to an increase in abortion in our community that already has high rates.”
Bennett asked: “What message does it send to a woman who lives in a state where Medicaid won't cover her yearly dental exam, but she can get a free abortion?”
“The Hyde Amendment is accused of being racist, but it's not racist to preserve black lives,” Bennett said. “Hyde protects women from an industry that is actually rooted in racism, with a documented history of eugenics philosophy, population control, and the unlawful targeting of the black community.”
Rep. Herrera Beutler (R-Calif.), who supports the Hyde Amendment, said the issue is one of defending “human life.”
“A baby in utero can have a completely different blood type than its mother. That’s not an extension of the mother's body,” Beutler said. “It's its own life with its own DNA, [and] it's separate from the mother. … You have to acknowledge the personhood of the other person in this equation, who pays the ultimate price.”
Beutler encouraged her colleagues not to repeal insurance coverage such as the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
“If we're going to tell young women who are from minority neighborhoods, ‘Have your baby,’ then we need to step up and make sure that they have the coverage they need,” Buetler said.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) also defended the Hyde Amendment, saying it has “saved the lives of over 2 million people since it was first adopted in 1976.”
“Most of them [were] people of color,” Cole said. “... Before the enactment of this provision, the federal Medicaid program was paying for nearly 300,000 abortions annually. ... 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.”
Most Americans who support the Hyde Amendment “believe that an abortion is the intentional destruction of innocent human life,” Cole said.
“It's not health care for women,” he said. “... Supporters of abortion should also question whether the promotion of abortion is itself structurally racist, since it disproportionately affects people of color, and substantially reduces births of women of color to a much greater extent than births of white women.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/September15
Video courtesy: House Appropriations Committee
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.