The Corner

Politics & Policy

Pelosi Says Tax Dollars Will Fund Free Abortions for Medicaid Recipients in 2021

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, October 17, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

The LA Times reported on Friday afternoon that House speaker Nancy Pelosi has privately committed to fellow Democrats that the House will vote next year to provide unlimited taxpayer funding of abortion for Medicaid recipients:

The plan to oppose the restriction on government money reflects the dramatic and widespread reversal of opinion on the subject that Democrats have undergone in the last five years. What was once viewed as an acceptable compromise is now widely seen among Democrats as a prime example of systemic racism that unfairly hurts poor women and women of color by banning abortion in most cases for Medicaid patients.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who leads the subcommittee that funds federal health programs, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) told a small group of lawmakers last month that they would not add the prohibition to any government funding bill beginning next year, according to Lee and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), who co-chair the House Pro-Choice Caucus.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill did not comment on the remark. When asked about the prospects for next year, he said: “The House will work its will.”

DeLauro considered removing the ban from a spending bill this year, but the move was considered futile as Republicans hold the Senate and White House.

In the latest issue of National Review, I report on why the Hyde amendment, the measure that has prohibited federal Medicaid funding of abortion for four decades and saved 50,000 lives per year by one estimate, is in peril as never before:

One study by the Guttmacher Institute, a Planned Parenthood offshoot, found that in states that use their own tax dollars to pay for abortions undergone by Medicaid recipients, the abortion rate among Medicaid recipients is 3.9 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.”

The precise number of lives saved by the Hyde amendment is a matter of dispute, but according to a 2016 report by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an organization affiliated with the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, “the best research indicates that the Hyde Amendment has saved over two million unborn children” since the policy was first enacted in 1976.

That’s an average of 50,000 human lives saved from abortion each year.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged in a 2009 interview that a major rationale for funding abortions for Medicaid recipients was that it would result in a culling of the poor, though she put it a bit more euphemistically. “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,” she said. “So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding of abortion.” For that reason, the liberal Supreme Court justice said she was surprised that the Supreme Court did not strike down the Hyde amendment in the 1980 case Harris v. McRae.

After surviving that Supreme Court decision, the Hyde amendment was attached to bills funding Medicaid for four decades regardless of which party was in control of Congress and the White House. The first time around, in 1976, it was attached to an appropriations bill that Republican president Gerald Ford vetoed as exceeding his budget request; a supermajority of a Democratic Congress overrode the veto, thus enacting the policy into law. Jimmy Carter, Ford’s Democratic successor, supported the Hyde amendment. Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama officially opposed it, but there were enough moderate Democrats and pro-life Democrats in Congress that it survived overwhelming Democratic majorities in 1993 and 2009. (Although the prohibition on Medicaid funding for abortion survived the 2009–11 Congress, Democrats did expand federal subsidies for abortion via Obamacare exchanges in states that didn’t pass new laws banning such subsidies.)

But now, three factors mean that the Hyde amendment is in peril as never before.

First, the sitting Republican president’s response to the pandemic and the protests this summer has been so unpopular that Democrats are more likely than not to control the White House, the House, and the Senate in 2021.

Second, because of partisan polarization and Democrats’ purging of their own pro-life representatives, there are almost no supporters of the Hyde amendment left among congressional Democrats. In the Senate, Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania both officially support it, but Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine oppose it. Even if the Democrats control the Senate by only a razor-thin majority, there would likely be majorities in both chambers to repeal the Hyde amendment.

Third, it is unlikely that filibuster rules would allow a GOP Senate minority to save the Hyde amendment in 2021.

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