Even if you don't follow politics closely, you've likely heard about the Hyde Amendment, which restricts taxpayer dollars from paying for elective abortions in federal programs such as Medicaid. It comes up often because Congress routinely incorporates it into its annual spending bills — and now it's back in the news as lawmakers again wrestle over money.
This policy is longstanding: It has been included in funding bills since 1976, regardless of which party controls Congress and the White House. It is lifesaving: 2.4 million lives and counting. And it is broadly supported across the political spectrum: A 2021 Knights of Columbus/Marist poll found that 58% of Americans oppose using taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, including 65% of independents and 31% of Democrats.
That hasn't stopped the media from portraying the Hyde Amendment as "controversial," nor has it stopped politicians from trying to reverse the life-saving policy. Why the distorted characterizations?
Democrats in Congress, as well as President Joe Biden (who supported the Hyde Amendment for more than 30 years until the 2020 presidential primary), have called to remove the Hyde Amendment from annual appropriations measures. That's exactly what the president's budget proposed, and what multiple House-passed appropriations bills have done.
Congress has until Dec. 3 to appropriate funding for fiscal year 2022, and whether Hyde will remain is an open question. Meanwhile, a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill proposes to enact new health-related spending, including a Medicaid look-alike program, without applying Hyde protections. Biden has indicated that he would sign a reconciliation bill with or without Hyde protections.
Such a position is a significant departure from the decades of consensus surrounding the Hyde Amendment: While Americans may disagree on the issue of abortion, a majority agrees that tax dollars shouldn't pay for them.
Unfortunately, the media hasn't accurately informed public discourse about this consequential policy debate. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has reiterated on multiple occasions that the Hyde Amendment is a "red line," and the reconciliation bill is "dead on arrival" if it fails to incorporate Hyde.
In reporting this significant development, The Hill chose a headline that cast the Hyde Amendment as "controversial." A better characterization of Hyde would have been "popular" or "well-liked."
Responding to Manchin's comments, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who heads the House Progressive Caucus, said that she would not support the reconciliation bill if it included Hyde and obfuscated the issue in multiple ways on CNN's "State of the Union" show.
First, she said falsely stated that "the Hyde Amendment is something that the majority of the country does not support." Then, when asked specifically whether she wanted reconciliation bill spending to go toward abortions, she bizarrely said "none of the dollars here are going for that." But of course that's precisely what would be allowed in a Medicaid look-alike program, for example, without explicit Hyde protections.
Americans on both sides of the debate surrounding abortion and pro-life protections care deeply about the issue, but thoughtful debate requires truthful discourse.
The Hyde Amendment is longstanding, broadly supported, life-saving policy. Policymakers should respect Americans' consensus on this issue and not use federal spending measures to bypass Hyde protections, and media outlets should accurately report the enduring support for the Hyde Amendment as these debates unfold.
Melanie Israel is a policy analyst in the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation.
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