For more than four decades, the Hyde amendment, an annual budget rider, has prohibited federal Medicaid funding of abortion except in rare circumstances. For most of that time, Joe Biden supported the Hyde amendment. “The government should not tell those with strong convictions against abortion, such as you and I, that we must pay for them,” Biden wrote to a constituent in 1994. Biden finally decided to support Medicaid funding of abortion in June 2019 because of pressure from Democratic rivals and progressive activists during the presidential primary.
Protecting the conscience rights of pro-life Americans is a good reason to support the Hyde amendment, but the main reason why it has been America’s most important pro-life public policy is that it has saved more human lives from being destroyed by abortion than any other policy.
When the government subsidizes abortion, the result is more abortions, as simple logic and multiple studies tell us. According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, “the best research indicates that the Hyde Amendment has saved over two million unborn children” since the policy was first enacted in 1976. According to one study by the Guttmacher Institute, when states use their own tax dollars to fund abortions for Medicaid recipients, the abortion rate among women on Medicaid was nearly four times the abortion rate among women who are not on Medicaid. In states that do not fund abortion, the abortion rate among women on Medicaid was 1.6 times the rate among women not on Medicaid.
Put plainly, federal funding of abortion is an evil policy. It’s an evil policy because it would cause the destruction of tens of thousands of innocent human lives each year. It’s an evil policy because it treats abortion as a public good and compels millions of pro-life Americans to fund abortions. And it’s an evil policy because it is also a eugenic policy.
The late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once acknowledged a top rationale for supporting Medicaid funding of abortion in the 1970s was that the policy would limit the “growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”
“Frankly, I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of,” Ginsburg said in a 2009 interview. “So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding of abortion.”
Medicaid is a program jointly administered by the federal government and the states, and taxpayer funding of abortion is so unpopular that only 16 states allow their own tax dollars to fund elective abortions (six of the abortion-funding states have voluntarily done so through the legislative process, while the remaining ten fund elective abortions due to court orders). Polls have consistently shown that strong majorities of American voters support the Hyde amendment.
Congressional Democrats likely don’t have the votes to kill the Hyde amendment outright in 2021. Appropriations bills that typically fund Medicaid need 60 votes to pass the Senate, and it remains unlikely Democrats will abolish the filibuster this year. If necessary, pro-life senators must filibuster any bill that kills the Hyde amendment.
The budget reconciliation process, however, allows the Senate to pass some bills with a simple majority, and reconciliation is therefore the most likely way Democrats could pass a law greatly expanding taxpayer funding of abortion. The $1.9 trillion “COVID relief” bill that Congress passed earlier this year under reconciliation included various slush funds that could be used to fund abortions, but it remains to be seen how much of the “COVID relief” money is actually spent on abortion.
West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, a self-described pro-life Democrat, set a deeply troubling precedent when he voted for final passage of the “COVID relief” bill that lacked the Hyde amendment. As bad as that bill was, a bill creating a government-run “public option” for health insurance that funds abortion on demand or a bill allowing direct federal Medicaid funding of abortion would be even worse. If Manchin is truly pro-life — and wants to represent the pro-life values of his constituents — he needs to use his considerable power to stop any bill that provides federal funding of elective abortions.
That so many questions about whether the Democrats will enact their most radical proposals turn on how one senator from West Virginia will vote is a reminder that the stakes are high in the 2022 elections. If Democrats keep the House and make small gains in the Senate, they could have the votes to enact a policy of unlimited taxpayer funding of abortion.
To ensure that the Hyde amendment continues to save lives, voters ought to place a check on the Biden presidency in 2022 and elect a Republican Congress.