Dems, despite their control, all but concede on federal abortion spending
“There wouldn’t be any bill at all if we didn’t have those in there. The legacy riders have to be in there,” Shelby told reporters on Thursday.
Shelby is saying plainly what Democrats have known since they locked up control of Washington last year: Their promise of finally kicking the decades-old ban on abortion funding is almost certain to fail due to Senate Republicans, like so many of their other policy ambitions. In the case of the Hyde amendment, President Joe Biden will likely have to approve an extension of a funding ban that he told Democratic primary voters he “could no longer continue to abide by.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated the GOP’s red line on the issue in a speech on the floor this month, saying: “The Hyde amendment prevents taxpayers from having to pay taxes for abortions. In a 50-50 Senate, we need to honor the bipartisan status quo.”
There is mounting frustration among Democrats’ progressive base that the party — despite controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House — not only haven’t passed new protections for abortion rights, but may now go along with an extension of the half-century old federal funding ban.
“The stakes for abortion care could not be higher right now,” said Destiny Lopez, the co-president of the group All* Above All. “Congress needs to be doing everything in its power to stymie anything that stands in the way of people getting access to abortion care in this country. We need them to take bold stands here.”
The Democrats’ top appropriators — Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) in the House and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in the Senate — say the issue is still under discussion.
“I’m not going to talk about the riders,” Leahy said after the spending leaders settled on a funding framework. “We’ll work everything out. We’ve done very well negotiating among each other.”
Democrats vowed when they took the majority to abolish the Hyde amendment and other prohibitions on government spending on abortion. Biden last year sent Congress a budget request that proposed eliminating them, and the House, for the first time in history, passed a spending bill that dropped the riders last year. Now, the party’s rank and file say they plan to keep pressing the issue despite the odds.
“This is all part of the continuing assault, as far as I’m concerned, on women’s choice and control over our own bodies,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said of the Hyde amendment.
But Democrats fighting to hold only their slim majorities in both chambers currently lack the votes to push through a repeal of Hyde — not only because of across-the-board opposition from Republicans but also because Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and a handful of Senate Democrats similarly oppose unwinding the funding ban.
Despite Biden coming out strong against the Hyde amendment, the head of the White House budget office did not challenge Republicans’ stance on the abortion ban when GOP senators pressed the issue earlier this month.
Acting OMB Director Shalanda Young told lawmakers during her confirmation hearing that she would “follow the law and certainly commit to not trying to weaken the Hyde amendment if Congress chooses not to remove it from appropriations bills.”
Young’s response was far more conciliatory than her previous statements critical of the Hyde amendment, which prompted some Republican senators to oppose her nomination a year ago to serve as deputy director of the White House budget office. Eliminating the Hyde amendment “is a matter of economic and racial justice,” Young said last March, noting that the ban prevents Medicaid from covering the cost of abortions in most cases, denying access to many low-income and marginalized people.
The standoff on Capitol Hill comes as the Supreme Court appears poised to roll back or completely overturn the federal right to an abortion under Roe v. Wade. The justices are expected to rule in June on the constitutionality of Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, a law that takes direct aim at Roe’s protections for abortion prior to the point of fetal viability. In anticipation of a decision that sharply curbs access to the procedure, dozens of GOP-controlled states have introduced or passed their own broad bans and restrictions on terminating a pregnancy.
The House last year passed a bill that would bar states from enacting such bans — Women’s Health Protection Act. While Majority Leader Chuck Schumerpromised in October that the chamber would vote on it “soon,” a vote has yet to be scheduled, and the effort is currently well short of the 60 votes it needs to advance.
Even with Roe still in place, abortion rights advocates stress, abortion is out of reach forlow-income people on Medicaid who can’t afford to pay out-of-pocket. Continuing Hyde, they say, would keep financial hurdles in place at the same time new legal hurdles are being established.
“One of the most fundamental ways to reduce barriers to abortion access and increase health equity is to pass a spending bill that does not include the racist, discriminatory Hyde Amendment, which has denied abortion coverage to people with low incomes, people of color, LGBTQ+ people and immigrants for more than four decades,” said Jacqueline Ayers, the senior vice president of policy, organizing, and advocacy at Planned Parenthood. “It’s time for Congress to end the Hyde Amendment once and for all.”