House Democrats Vote for Unlimited Taxpayer Funding of Abortion for Medicaid Recipients

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) walks out of a news conference along with her Democratic House committee chairs after the House of Representatives approved two counts of impeachment against President Donald Trump in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill, December 18, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Until Thursday, every appropriations bill to fund Medicaid included the Hyde amendment, which prohibits funding of abortion except in limited circumstances.

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Until Thursday, every appropriations bill to fund Medicaid included the Hyde amendment, which prohibits funding of abortion except in limited circumstances.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE O n Thursday, for the first time in 45 years, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to provide taxpayer funding of elective abortions for Medicaid recipients.

Since 1976, regardless of partisan control of Congress, every appropriations bill funding Medicaid that passed the House included the Hyde amendment, which bars federal funding of abortion except in rare circumstances. The last time such an appropriations bill came to the floor of the House without the Hyde amendment was in 1993, when Democrats held 258 seats in the lower chamber. Despite the large Democratic majority, there were still enough moderates in the party to add the Hyde amendment — modified at the time to restore federal funding in cases of rape and incest — before final passage.

Democrats now have a slim House majority — holding just 220 seats — but pro-life Democrats have effectively gone extinct in the House. The appropriations bill killing off the Hyde amendment passed the House on a 219-208 vote on Thursday, and a “motion to recommit” offered by Republicans that would have sent the bill back to committee so the Hyde amendment could be added failed on a 217-208 party-line vote.

For several decades, many elected Democrats who supported a legal right to abortion nevertheless opposed taxpayer funding of abortion. Joe Biden was one of them.

“I will continue to abide by the same principle that has guided me throughout my 21 years in the Senate: those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them,” then-senator Biden wrote to a constituent in 1994. “As you may know, I have consistently — on no fewer than 50 occasions — voted against federal funding of abortions.”

In his 2007 book Promises to Keep, Biden wrote: “I’ve stuck to my middle-of-the-road position on abortion for more than thirty years. I still vote against partial birth abortion and federal funding.”

As recently as June 2019, Biden reiterated his support for the Hyde amendment, but under intense pressure from Democratic activists and Democratic rivals in the presidential primary, he reversed his position that same month.

While Biden supported the Hyde amendment for decades on the grounds that it protects the conscience rights of Americans who oppose abortion, many pro-life advocates say an even more important reason to support the policy is that it saves tens of thousands of lives each year from being ended in abortion.

Several studies have shown that Medicaid funding of abortion results in women having abortions at much higher rates than women who aren’t on Medicaid.

One study by the Guttmacher Institute, a Planned Parenthood offshoot, found that in states that use their own tax dollars to pay for abortions procured by Medicaid recipients, the abortion rate among Medicaid recipients is nearly four times the rate among nonrecipients, “while in states that do not permit Medicaid funding for abortions, Medicaid recipients are only 1.6 times as likely as nonrecipients to have abortions.”

A 2016 report by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an organization affiliated with the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, concluded that “the best research indicates that the Hyde Amendment has saved over two million unborn children” since the policy was first enacted in 1976.

The late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged in a 2009 interview that a major rationale in the 1970s for funding abortions for Medicaid recipients was that it would limit the growth of “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. “So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding of abortion.”

With the legislative filibuster still intact in the Senate, Republicans in the upper chamber will have the power to block passage of an appropriations bill funding Medicaid if it lacks the Hyde amendment.

“Quite frankly, everyone in this room knows this bill will never pass the United States Senate without” pro-life protections, Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma said earlier this month.

But Senate Democrats still have another shot this year at passing a reconciliation bill, which needs only a simple majority to pass in the upper chamber, and some Senate Democrats are hoping to use the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill to create a new “Medicaid-like” program that would fund elective abortions. The program would, at first, be limited to serving populations in twelve states that rejected Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

Although Republicans don’t have the power to stop a reconciliation bill from passing, pro-life West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin has the power to do so. Manchin said in June: “I’m going to support Hyde in every way possible.”

If Manchin prevents the reconciliation bill from funding elective abortions, he could help his party: Polls consistently show that strong majorities of Americans support the Hyde amendment.