Occasionally, Congress gets something right.
In 1976, Illinois representative Henry Hyde attached to the year’s annual appropriations bill a rider prohibiting federal Medicaid funds from being used to finance abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother. Since then, no matter which party has been in control of Congress or the White House, the Hyde Amendment has been accepted as a matter of course during appropriations negotiations, tacked on and passed with little or no fanfare. It’s a reasonable compromise today especially, given that more than eight in ten Americans agree that at some unspecified moment before birth (they disagree about when this specific moment occurs), a fetus stops being a “clump of cells” and becomes a baby. And most people do not want Congress involved in financing the murder of children.
Last week, Planned Parenthood, the nation’s premier abortion provider (300,000-plus abortions annually), endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, breaking its custom of waiting until the general election. That’s no surprise. As she told Chuck Todd last year, Clinton’s idea of a “reasonable restriction” is something at “the very end of the third trimester.” But at a Planned Parenthood shindig over the weekend, after receiving the group’s endorsement, the presumptive Democratic nominee really got the abortion groupies going — by calling for an end to the Hyde Amendment.
Clinton’s idea of a ‘reasonable restriction’ on abortions is something at ‘the very end of the third trimester.’
Hillary is not the first Clinton to oppose Hyde. During his 1992 campaign, her husband promised to kill the amendment, and he managed to narrow it slightly the next year. And many Democrats would love to be rid of the pesky amendment. But since the early 1990s, open opposition to Hyde has been a non-starter, a position left to activists, true abortion zealots. Even Harry Reid declared, in a speech in late 2009: “My belief in the sanctity of life is why I have repeatedly voted against using taxpayer money for abortions.”
Last week, the Republican-controlled Congress passed a bill that would repeal and replace Obamacare — and end all public funding for Planned Parenthood. That the bill will require a presidential veto is a sign of a seismic shift in the Republican party. GOP officeholders are of one mind: Abortion might be legal, but there’s no reason taxpayers should have to pay for it.
This is, of course, partly the result of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), whose sting videos released over the summer provided hard evidence of what many have long suspected: Planned Parenthood, and the abortion industry more broadly, is a morally repulsive enterprise whose primary players are abortionists who prod at still-living victims and executives who barter off body parts. But it is also the result of science that continues to roll back the viability threshold (22 weeks, according to a recent study), successful anti-abortion campaigns at the state level, and probing reflections by people such as Alexandra Kimball, an abortion supporter whose miscarriage and months of grief caused her to reconsider what she’d believed about the unborn.
GOP officeholders are of one mind: Abortion might be legal, but there’s no reason taxpayers should have to pay for it.
Meanwhile, abortion supporters are in a difficult spot: They are hardly likely to attract converts to their cause by admitting, as some will privately, that abortion is the killing of a child (not just a “clump of cells”), but that it is a justifiable killing. And the language of “women’s rights” has been forcefully undermined, most recently by the CMP videos. After all, does anything in those videos have to do with “women’s health”? The “woman’s right to choose” mantra has been effective in no small part because people assumed it was accompanied by a basic decency. Scissoring down the middle of an aborted baby’s face to remove the brain intact is not what folks had in mind.
More and more, it seems a fait accompli: If Republicans hold both chambers and manage to elect one of their own to the White House, Planned Parenthood, which owes 40 percent of its annual revenue to the American taxpayer, will be thrown back on its own dime.So, suddenly, Planned Parenthood is panicking. The early endorsement, the candidate proclaiming her support for Planned Parenthood’s conscience-crushing agenda: These are the signs not of strength but of weakness, of an institution that wants to change the rules of the game because it is no longer winning. Planned Parenthood has been thrown back on its heels, and now we are hearing the cris de coeur.
It’s worth noting that the Hyde Amendment is hardly a solution to the question of taxpayer funding for abortions. Money is fungible: The $500 million taxpayers give to Planned Parenthood may not be used to pay for abortions directly (according to the amendment), but that’s a $500 million cushion on top of which Planned Parenthood can conduct its slaughterous business. But at least the amendment recognizes, and seeks modestly to accommodate, people’s differences of conscience on this issue.
Abortion advocates could tolerate that, as long as the status quo held. But the momentum is shifting. Republicans are closer than they have ever been to dealing a staggering blow to America’s abortion industry — and all Planned Parenthood and its allies can do, like the bullies they are, is issue threats.
That’s a good sign.
— Ian Tuttle is a National Review Institute Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism.
[Editor's Note: This article has been amended since its initial posting.]