The Uncontroversial Hyde Amendment

 Here’s a headline from The Hill: “Manchin says reconciliation bill must include controversial Hyde Amendment.”

Here’s a better word than “controversial” to describe the Hyde amendment: “popular.”

A [January 2021] Marist Poll sponsored by the Knights of Columbus asks Americans: “Please tell me if you strongly support, support, oppose, or strongly oppose using tax dollars to pay for a woman’s abortion.” Fifty-eight percent of Americans say they oppose taxpayer funding of abortion, while 38 percent support it. Those numbers are broadly consistent with polling on the Hyde amendment in recent years. In 2016, a Politico/Harvard poll found that likely voters oppose Medicaid funding of abortion by a 22-point margin — 58 percent to 36 percent.

There’s a reason why Virginia’s 2021 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, who brags about how he’s been a “brick wall” against efforts to place legal limits on abortion, won’t say whether he would sign a bill providing taxpayer funding of elective abortions in Virginia’s Medicaid program. Only 16 states throughout the country use their tax dollars to fund abortion, and most of those states do so only because of court orders. 

And there’s a reason why the Hyde amendment was uncontroversial in Congress for four decades

Since 1976, regardless of partisan control of Congress, every appropriations bill funding Medicaid that passed the House included the Hyde amendment, which bars federal funding of abortion except in rare circumstances. The last time such an appropriations bill came to the floor of the House without the Hyde amendment was in 1993, when Democrats held 258 seats in the lower chamber. Despite the large Democratic majority, there were still enough moderates in the party to add the Hyde amendment — modified at the time to restore federal funding in cases of rape and incest — before final passage.

Democrats now have a slim House majority — holding just 220 seats — but pro-life Democrats have effectively gone extinct in the House. The appropriations bill killing off the Hyde amendment passed the House on a 219-208 vote on Thursday, and a “motion to recommit” offered by Republicans that would have sent the bill back to committee so the Hyde amendment could be added failed on a 217-208 party-line vote.

The Hyde amendment is controversial only inside today’s Democratic Party, but Manchin promised in June he would “support Hyde in every way possible.”

Manchin’s support for the Hyde amendment and the Senate filibuster means there’s no chance the appropriations bill funding the traditional Medicaid program will provide federal funding for elective abortions this year. It would take an astonishing lack of principles for Manchin to turn around and support a reconciliation bill that would create a new “Medicaid-like” program in 12 states that funds abortion on demand, especially when there’s an easy and obvious way to increase health benefits that doesn’t fund abortion.

Given how the Hyde amendment polls, Manchin’s fellow Democrats in Congress should thank him if he stands firm and keeps them from enacting a deeply unpopular policy.

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