A law that once had widespread bipartisan support in Congress is now being challenged by some Democrats, including presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. It’s called the Hyde Amendment, and it prohibits federal funding of abortion except in cases of rape or incest, and cases where a woman’s life is in danger.
The Hyde Amendment is a legislative provision that was originally approved in 1967, and has been renewed annually ever since. It was designed to prevent taxpayers who oppose abortion from having to subsidize it. Because the Hyde Amendment prohibits Medicaid-funded abortions, however, opponents of the law argue that it unfairly discriminates against low-income women.
“Access to abortion shouldn’t depend on your zip code, and it shouldn’t depend on your pocketbook,” said Nancy Northrop, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights in a statement.
In fact, the bill was aimed at low-income women from the start. Henry Hyde, the Republican Congressman from Illinois who first sponsored the amendment, acknowledged that he would prefer to prohibit abortion altogether, but could only realistically expect to ban abortions funded by Medicaid. In a statement to Congress in 1977, Hyde said the following:
“I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid] bill.”
This sentiment is especially troubling when you consider that roughly half of all the women who had abortions in 2014 were living below the federal poverty line. This suggests that thousands more women have been forced to carry unintended pregnancies to term simply because they couldn’t afford to have an abortion.
The Democrats who are calling for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment acknowledge that their efforts will probably take a while to gain traction in Congress. In spite of the challenges ahead, they remain committed to eliminating the restrictive legislation that specifically targets disadvantaged women.