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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson December 16, 2021

Opponents of federal abortion funding ban achieve historic result in House, face challenge in Senate

Since 1976, every relevant spending bill that passed the House and Senate included an amendment barring the use of federal funds to perform abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the woman's life. 

Until 2021.

The Hyde amendment, as this provision is known, was absent from the spending bills passed by the House in July, advancing a promise made by Joe Biden during the 2021 presidential campaign.

For decades, the Hyde amendment had been considered a given in congressional spending bills. But in recent years, many Democrats have grown increasingly frustrated about its impact on lower-income women, and especially on women of color. 

That's because the provision's biggest impact is on Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides health insurance to low-income Americans. Some states have chosen to use their own funds to pay for abortions under Medicaid, but in states that have not followed that course, Medicaid-funded abortions are essentially out of reach for residents.

This year, when the House Democratic majority advanced its annual bills to fund the federal government, none of them included the Hyde amendment.

"In all our conversations with the White House, they're super supportive" of making good on Biden's promise to end the Hyde amendment, said Kelsey Ryland, the federal strategies director for All* Above All, a group that advocates for abortion access.

However, partisan considerations might become an insurmountable obstacle. 

No Republican voted for the Hyde-free spending bills either in committee or in final floor consideration, and if this partisan pattern continues in the Senate, then it's likely that senators would have to add the Hyde amendment back in before the spending bills are passed. (For the moment, the need to pass annual spending bills has been mooted by passage of "continuing resolutions" that keep federal funding going at existing levels and with existing restrictions.)

Outside groups are aiming to keep Republican opposition firm: The Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, has already launched a six-figure ad campaign targeting Democrats over the removal of the Hyde amendment, Time magazine reported.

Ultimately, Biden's push to eliminate the Hyde amendment has been more successful than at any point in the last 45 years. While that progress may eventually be reversed in the Senate, the status of the funding bills in the Senate is uncertain. For now, we're rating this promise In the Works.

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