Washington Wednesday: The Hyde Amendment


NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the 12th of June, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up today: Washington Wednesday.

REICHARD: Henry Hyde is a towering name in Washington. No one denies he left his mark during more than three decades in Congress.

That’s why President George W. Bush gave him the nation’s highest civilian award. Here’s Bush presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.

BUSH: From the first day, he was a commanding presence, and he was a man of consequence. In committee and in the House chamber, the background noise would stop when Henry Hyde had the floor.

Hyde’s most lasting mark was one of his earliest accomplishments. In 1976—still in his first term—he managed to pass an amendment banning federal funding for abortions.

The amendment initially got caught up in court challenges. But it took effect after the Supreme Court upheld it in 1980.

Up to that point, Medicaid had been paying for about 300,000 abortions per year. It’s hard to say how many of those lives were saved—because low-income women have other means of accessing abortion. But conservative estimates put the figure well above 1 million lives over the last four decades.

The reason the Hyde Amendment has survived so long is because it’s what’s known as a rider. That means it’s attached to must-pass legislation to keep the government open.

It received surprisingly little attention over the years, as presidents from Clinton to Obama signed legislation with Hyde language. That changed in 2016.

CLINTON: Let’s repeal laws like the Hyde Amendment [applause] that make it nearly impossible for low-income women—disproportionately women of color—to exercise their full reproductive rights.

Hillary Clinton made repealing Hyde a key part of her campaign for president.

She lost, but the idea did not. It’s now hit the mainstream in Democratic party politics.

O’ROURKE: As president, I will repeal the Hyde Amendment and roll back the gag rule which prevents doctors from making the best possible referrals to their patients—in many cases for the health and life of the woman involved.

That’s Beto O’Rourke expressing what is a near-universal position in the 2020 Democrat presidential field.

I say nearly universal, because there was at least one notable exception. Former Vice President Joe Biden—who is leading the polls—is a long-time supporter of the Hyde Amendment. His campaign confirmed his support for it as recently as last week.

But that confirmation led to an outcry among the Democratic base. And Biden took note of the political winds. Here he is explaining his new position in a speech last Thursday.

BIDEN: The fact of the matter is when in fact there is this enormous pressure and even threat to close down clinics that are available in the past, for women who do not have the funds but are able to have them paid for privately, as we’ve been able to do—that was one thing. But, we now see so many Republican governors denying healthcare to millions of the poorest, most vulnerable Americans by refusing even Medicaid expansion. I can’t justify leaving millions of women without access to the care they need and the ability to exercise their constitutionally protected right. If I believe healthcare is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s zip code. [cheers]

So in a span of about three years, it appears the Democratic Party’s shift on this issue is complete.

Here now to talk about this is WORLD’s Washington-based reporter Harvest Prude. She’s been covering this story for WORLD Digital.

Harvest, good morning!

PRUDE: Good morning!

REICHARD: Let’s start with this latest Biden position. Why did he make this move?

PRUDE: Pro-life advocates are seeing this as Biden essentially caving to the Democratic Party’s doctrine on abortion, which is abortion throughout all stages of the pregnancy funded by the taxpayer. Before he kind of reversed position, he was receiving a lot of public pressure from abortion advocates and it’s worth noting that you have to go back to Jimmy Carter to find the last Democratic presidential nominee who actually did support the Hyde Amendment.

REICHARD: And what has been the response from the rest of the Democratic field?

PRUDE: Abortion advocates are celebrating the news as Biden “catching up” to the rest of the 2020 Democratic contenders who have already voiced their support for taxpayer-funded abortion. But expect his rivals to use this as an example that he is too old school for the Democratic Party or still hasn’t caught up to their progressive values.

REICHARD: Lots of these Democrats are in Congress now—some in the House, others in the Senate. Are they actively trying to get rid of Hyde?

PRUDE: So, here’s where it’s a little ironic because actually every single Democrat running now has voted for Hyde in the past—including independent Senator Bernie Sanders. And this year it’s also included in a package funding the Department of Labor and Health and Human Services. And these contenders are silent about whether or not they’re going to vote against it or vote for it.

A few progressive House Democrats have introduced an amendment to nullify the ban, but it’s extremely unlikely that that will even make it to the floor. It’s just too hot for Democratic leadership to handle.

REICHARD: Harvest, I wonder what the American people think about all of this. What do the polls show on the issue of federal funding for abortion?

PRUDE: A Politico poll found that almost half of voters—49 percent—support the amendment while only 33 percent oppose it. So, Biden’s position on this is not a winner in the general election. But it might help him in the primaries, which was probably—again—his primary motivation for doing this.

REICHARD: Harvest Prude is a WORLD reporter based in Washington, D.C. Harvest, thank you for coming on to talk about this today.

PRUDE: You’re welcome, Mary! Any time.


(AP Photo/Matthew Putney) Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a town hall meeting, Tuesday, June 11, 2019, in Ottumwa, Iowa. 

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