By Christianna Silva
On Wednesday, June 6, former vice president and current Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden confirmed that he still supports the Hyde Amendment, a measure that prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion, despite the procedure being legal across the country.
Biden immediately faced backlash from the Democratic Party, and particularly progressive members, given how the amendment disproportionately and negatively affects poor people and people of color, who may see cost as a barrier from safely receiving an abortion procedure.
What is the Hyde Amendment?
Simply put, the Hyde Amendment bans federal funds for abortions. The amendment passed in 1976, just three years after the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that abortion is a legal right; it has since been voted on every single year as a part of the annual Health and Human Services appropriations bill for the past four decades, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. (Appropriations bills are passed to fund various governmental programs, and must be passed annually.)
There have been a few different variations of the amendment over the past 42 years, but the current version includes exceptions that allow Medicaid funds to be used for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or the health of the pregnant person, according to the American Center for Law and Justice. All other federal funding of abortion is currently banned.
The amendment was named after one of its biggest anti-choice advocates, the late Republican congressman Henry Hyde from Illinois. But from the outset, pro-choice groups like the Reproductive Freedom Project, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Planned Parenthood said that the amendment unfairly affected poor women. They took the amendment to the Supreme Court, where, in 1980, SCOTUS ruled it to be constitutional.
According to a 2009 report from NPR, during the three years after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion and before the Hyde Amendment banned federal funding for the procedure, tax dollars funded about 300,000 abortions annually — roughly 25 percent of the abortions performed legally during that time. After the Hyde Amendment went into effect, abortions financed by the federal government dropped to a few thousand a year, though the actual number of abortions being performed has not declined as steeply. (For that, however, Planned Parenthood has credited better access to contraception and comprehensive sex education, not legislation, given that the birth rate hasn’t increased, either.)
Why does it matter?
The ACLU argues that the Hyde Amendment is pretty blatantly sexist, saying “for no covered medical service that men need does the federal Medicaid program restrict the standard for reimbursement as it does for abortions.”
Moreover, the union argues that in practice, putting restrictions on public funding for the procedure effectively takes away the right to an abortion from poor people, and especially poor people of color, who are pregnant. However, people with higher incomes can afford to travel to have the procedure or pay for their abortions out-of-pocket.
“The problem is, the Hyde Amendment affects poor women, women of color, black women, Hispanic women,” Patti Solis Doyle, who served as Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign manager in 2008 and has also worked for Biden, told the New York Times on Wednesday. “And women of color will elect the next president of the United States.”
Where do the candidates stand on it?
The Hyde Amendment originally had bipartisan support in Congress, and maintained that support for some time, according to the American Center for Law and Justice. Since it is part of the annual appropriations process, nearly every sitting member of Congress has voted on it as part of the HHS appropriations bill.
One of the first presidents to campaign against it was then-President Bill Clinton in 1992. He urged Congress to overturn it, but, after politics got in the way, compromised to amend the act and allow federal reimbursement for abortions in cases of rape or incest, according to the library at the Eternal Word Television Network. President Barack Obama didn’t make his opinion on the amendment clear, but he did include similar protections in the Affordable Care Act, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, banning federal funds for abortion services except in the cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the pregnant person is in danger.
The amendment is quite popular among constituents, according to polls reviewed by Vox, so Democratic candidates typically steered clear of the legislation. But after grassroots activism made the Hyde Amendment a topic of discussion again, arguing that abortion needs to be not just legal but also affordable, most Democratic presidential candidates have pivoted to supporting the repeal of the amendment.
In fact, the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act is a bill in Congress right now that would effectively repeal the Hyde Amendment. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Eric Swalwell and Seth Moulton — all of whom are running for the Democratic nomination – are all co-sponsors. The only sitting members of Congress who aren’t co-sponsoring the bill are Michael Bennet, Tulsi Gabbard, and Tim Ryan.
Democrats have been asking President Donald Trump to repeal the amendment since 2016; his entire track record suggests that won’t happen under his watch. Here’s where all of the Democratic presidential candidates stand on the Hyde Amendment:
Michael Bennet supports repealing the amendment. He tweeted: “Defenders of women and their health care rights have agreed for decades: the Hyde Amendment is federally sanctioned discrimination. It is wrong and should be overturned immediately.”
Bill de Blasio supports repealing the amendment. He tweeted: “The Hyde Amendment only hurts low income women, especially women of color. If you don’t support repeal, you shouldn’t be the Democratic nominee.”
Cory Booker supports repealing the amendment. He tweeted: “The Hyde Amendment is a threat to reproductive rights that punishes women and families who already struggle with access to adequate health care services.”
Steve Bullock supports repealing the amendment. In late May, he told a #RightsForAll ACLU volunteer that he would lift the Hyde Amendment if he was elected president.
Pete Buttigieg supports repealing the amendment, according to his website.
Julián Castro supports repealing the amendment. He tweeted: “All women should have access to reproductive care, regardless of their income or the state they live in. Abortion care is health care—it’s time to repeal the #HydeAmendment.”
John Delaney hasn’t made any public comments about the Hyde Amendment, but he told ThinkProgress in late April that he supports federal funding for abortion.
Tulsi Gabbard hasn’t made any public comments about the Hyde Amendment, but she told ThinkProgress in late April that she supports federal funding for abortion.
Kirsten Gillibrand supports repealing the act. “Repealing the Hyde Amendment is critical so that low-income women in particular can have access to the reproductive care they need and deserve,” she tweeted. “Reproductive rights are human rights, period. They should be non-negotiable for all Democrats.”
Mike Gravel supports repealing the act. In a statement made to MTV News, his spokesperson said he “supports the immediate repeal of the Hyde Amendment and believes that Joe Biden should be ashamed of himself for supporting such a monstrous provision.”
Kamala Harris supports repealing the amendment. She tweeted: “No woman’s access to reproductive health care should be based on how much money she has. We must repeal the Hyde Amendment.”
John Hickenlooper supports repealing the amendment. He tweeted: “At a time when women’s rights are under attack, we need to stand tall for our values. The #HydeAmendent actively harms women by limiting access and choice. It needs to be repealed.”
Jay Inslee supports repealing the amendment. He tweeted: “I voted against the Hyde Amendment in 1993. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. Reproductive health care is health care. Period.”
Amy Klobuchar hasn’t said anything publicly about repealing it, but is a co-sponsor of the EACH Woman Act, a bill that would repeal the amendment.
Wayne Messam hasn’t made any public comments about the Hyde Amendment, but he told ThinkProgress in late April that he supports federal funding for abortion.
Seth Moulton hasn’t said anything publicly about repealing it, but is a co-sponsor of the EACH Woman Act, a bill that would repeal the amendment.
Beto O’Rourke supports repealing the amendment. In May, he tweeted “Repeal the Hyde Amendment” along with a video of a speech calling for more funding for family planning centers like Planned Parenthood.
Tim Ryan supports repealing the amendment. He told MSNBC in May, “we’ve got to get rid of the Hyde Amendment.”
Bernie Sanders supports repealing the amendment. “There is #NoMiddleGround on women’s rights,” he tweeted. “Abortion is a constitutional right. Under my Medicare for All plan, we will repeal the Hyde Amendment.”
Eric Swalwell supports repealing the amendment. He tweeted: “We can’t live in the past when it comes to women’s health. The next president must appoint judges who #ProtectRoe BUT also MUST fight to #RepealHyde.” He also tagged Planned Parenthood, as well as NARAL, and its president, Ilyse Hogue.
Elizabeth Warren supports repealing the amendment. She told reporters after a rally in Indiana, “This isn’t about politics, this is about what’s right. The Hyde Amendment should not be American law.”
Marianne Williamson hasn’t made any public comments about the Hyde Amendment, but she told ThinkProgress in late April that she supports the Women’s Health Protection Act and the EACH Woman Act, which would provide federal funding for abortion.
Andrew Yang has not said anything public about the Hyde Amendment and did not immediately respond to a request for comment from MTV News.