On Wednesday night, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 217–212 to fund elective abortions in foreign countries with U.S. tax dollars.
For nearly five decades, regardless of partisan control of Congress, every appropriations bill funding the State Department and foreign aid programs has included the Helms amendment, which prevents international aid from directly paying for elective abortions.
But pro-life Democrats have gone extinct in the House of Representatives. In 2020, House Democrats introduced the “first-ever bill to repeal the Helms Amendment.” All but three Democrats voted to pass the bill killing the Helms amendment on Wednesday night, and the three Democratic “no” votes — Cori Bush, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib — didn’t oppose the bill because it would fund abortion.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi may have endangered the Democratic majority by having her caucus vote for taxpayer-funding in foreign countries. Multiple studies have shown that taxpayer subsidies for abortion increases the number of human lives ended by abortion, and the policy is deeply unpopular.
Last year, a Marist Poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus asked Americans if they supported or opposed “using tax dollars to support abortion in other countries.” The result: 76 percent of Americans said they oppose using tax dollars to support abortion in other countries, while 21 percent support it.
Appropriations bills are still subject to a 60-vote threshold in the Senate, which means that the Republican minority can (and certainly would) block final passage of any appropriations bill that lacks the Helms or the Hyde amendment, which prevents federal Medicaid funding of elective abortion. Every House Republican present voted against the bill killing the Helms amendment on Wednesday night.
Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma said earlier this month of the Hyde amendment and the Helms amendment: “Quite frankly, everyone in this room knows this bill will never pass the United States Senate without their inclusion.”
But the budget-reconciliation process allows Senate Democrats to pass a bill with a simple majority, and some Democrats are pushing for a new Medicaid-like program that would fund elective abortions in the United States.
If Democrats push forward with that proposal, it could ultimately fall to West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin to determine whether Democrats allow taxpayer-funding of elective abortions in the next reconciliation bill. Manchin said in June: “I’m going to support Hyde in every way possible.”