WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro promised “this is the last year” House spending bills will block federal funds from being used to pay for abortion in a hearing Tuesday as she prepares to take leadership over all federal spending in January.
DeLauro, D-3, has previously stated that she wants to repeal the Hyde amendment, which has applied this prohibition for 44 years with bipartisan support. But removing the amendment from spending bills will require the agreement of the Senate and Republicans, who may hold the Senate after the Georgia run-off elections, are sure to oppose the change.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., predicted that DeLauro would be unable to repeal Hyde even if Democrats win the Senate because of the chamber’s filibuster rules. He said Hyde has his “unwavering support.”
The Hyde amendment was added to Congressional spending bills after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973, which affirmed women’s rights to abortion are protected by privacy clauses in the U.S. Constitution. The amendment only allows federal funds to be used to pay for abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the woman’s life is endangered by their pregnancy. The result is that Medicaid, government health insurance for low-income individuals, will not cover most abortion services in the majority of states.
In Connecticut, the state’s Medicaid program has covered abortion since 1986, but 33 states and the District of Columbia follow the federal standard and do not provide coverage.
In a hearing on the amendment Tuesday, DeLauro argued Hyde made it more difficult for low-income women, more often women of color, to obtain abortions if they want them.
“The Hyde amendment is a discriminatory policy,” DeLauro said. “Now is the time to empower all women to make deeply personal life decisions without politicians inserting themselves into the doctor’s office.”
Cole said the policy “saved the lives of over 2 million people since it was first adopted in 1976, most of the people of color.”
“Before the enactment of this provision, the Federal Medicaid program was paying for nearly 300,000 abortions annually,” he said.
The amendment has strong support from groups that oppose abortion and Republicans, while organizations aiming to increase access to abortion and many Democrats have backed removing it from spending packages.
Christina Bennett of Middletown, the communications director for the pro-life Family Institute of Connecticut, said her mother was encouraged to go through with an abortion after she decided she did not want one by doctors in Hartford, Conn. She said repealing Hyde would lead to an increase in abortion among Black women, who now have disproportionately high rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion.
“Free abortions are not in the best interest of our community. We need health care, better housing, paid leave, affordable day care,” she said. “Abortion on demand is a band aid to the wound of economic health disparities that cause women to seek abortion.”
Herminia Palacio, president and CEO of the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, said women who cannot get an abortion they want due to cost, necessary travel or other restrictions, are more likely to live in poverty, be unemployed and struggle to separate from an abusive partner. She noted the Black women have greater risks of complications and death from pregnancy in the U.S. than other groups.
President-elect Joe Biden said he wanted to supported the Hyde amendment in 2019, but then reversed his position within days. President Donald Trump said he wanted the amendment codified into permanent federal law.
A bill to overturn the Hyde amendment has 24 Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate and 186 Democratic co-sponsors in the House, including all members of the Connecticut delegation.
As Appropriations chair, DeLauro can decide to remove the amendment from next year’s spending bills and then negotiate with the Senate to convince them to do the same. If Democrats win control of the Senate in January, she may have success.
Congress is currently negotiating a deal to approve the fiscal year 2021 federal spending at the legislation is expected to contain the Hyde amendment.