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Biden faces question of whether to keep the abortion funding ban in his budget

President Biden walks up to speak to members of the media. (Associated press)

President Biden was the last Democrat in the party’s presidential field to embrace the idea of ​​ending the decades-long ban on federal funding for abortion.

Now that his administration is drafting its first budget, Biden has the opportunity to put that campaign pledge into action by releasing the first presidential budget since the Clinton administration that does not ban abortion funding for those enrolled in government programs such as Medicaid.

Advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers urge Biden to drop the budget ban, a symbolic act they say will help build support to end a restriction that disproportionately affects people of color and women low income and does not match the values ​​of the Democratic Party.

“During the campaign, candidate Biden pledged to end the Hyde Amendment, Vice President Harris was an original cosponsor of [a bill to end the ban] in the Senate, ”said Kelsey Ryland of All * Above All, who advocates against the ban. Including it in the budget “would both betray its promise and show a real gap with the public’s position on this issue”.

The ban, known as the Hyde Amendment, was first introduced by anti-abortion Republican Henry Hyde of Illinois three years after the Supreme Court ruling Roe v Wade in 1973.

Whether Biden’s budget proposal includes the ban or leaves it out is largely a question of optics, as the president’s spending plan is more of an ambitious plan that is often ignored by Congress in Ultimately. Only lawmakers have the power to repeal the amendment.

Even so, a group of 23 Democratic lawmakers – including Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland and Senator Dianne Feinstein of California – are also pushing Biden to keep the ban outside of his budget.

“We urge you to start your presidency with a clear statement that discriminatory bans and restrictions on abortion coverage have no place in our public policy by removing all such restrictions from your budget for fiscal year 2022” , they wrote in a recent letter, calling it a message to Congress, the country and the world. “

Representative Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park), who also signed the letter, called it a “center of intense interest” for abortion rights advocates on Capitol Hill.

“We are looking forward to and monitoring this closely,” she said. “We believe the president’s budget should ensure that it supports women’s choice by not including Hyde. It only hurts women of color and low income women in this country. “

White House officials have not said what the administration will do. The administration is expected to release its main budget request on Friday, but few expect it to address the issue of the funding ban. A detailed budget is not expected until later this spring at the earliest.

The question Biden faces precedes a possible confrontation in Congress over the issue this year. House Democrats say they won’t write another spending bill with the ban in place, a significant reversal after decades of following politics. But Senate Democrats are nowhere near the number of votes they would need to get a bill passed in their chamber.

Long considered a compromise between Republicans and Democrats, the Hyde Amendment prohibits abortion except in cases of rape and incest or to preserve the life of the patient.

It covers people enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare, people receiving insurance coverage through Federal Employee Benefits, Natives receiving treatment at Indian Health Service facilities, volunteers of the Peace Corps and women in federal prisons. Similar bans also prevent U.S. foreign aid from funding abortions.

While some states, including California, choose to fund abortion in their Medicaid programs using state money, 33 states and the District of Columbia do not, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a group of research that supports the right to abortion.

The impact is vast. More than 7 million girls and women ages 15 to 44 are enrolled in Medicaid in states where abortion coverage is not available, according to Guttmacher. It disproportionately affects black women, about 31% of whom are enrolled in Medicaid, and Latin American women, of whom about 27% are in the program. Comparatively, 16% of white women are registered.

“It would be a huge disappointment for Biden’s budget not to omit the Hyde Amendment and a failure for this administration to live up to the challenge,” said Megan Donovan, senior policy officer at Guttmacher.

While the president’s budget won’t become law, supporters say Biden should use the spending plan’s symbolism to send a message about what’s important to his administration.

“We need an administration committed to bold policies that ensure that everyone has the capacity to make their own health care decisions, regardless of who they are, what their income or what type of health coverage they have.” , said Jacqueline Ayers, of the Planned Parenthood Federation. the US vice president of government relations and public policy.

Former President Clinton did not include the ban in his 1993 budget, and House Democrats tried unsuccessfully to lift it the following year.

Since then, the fury had subsided, so much so that President Obama included the Hyde Amendment in his budgets. But in recent years, especially as racial and economic justice has grown on the Democratic Party’s agenda, opposition to Hyde has grown exponentially. Abortion rights groups have made opposing Hyde a mandatory part of the candidate approval process. It was added to the party platform during Hillary Clinton’s 2016 candidacy.

As a senator, Biden was a longtime supporter of the Hyde Amendment and cited his Catholic faith as one of the reasons he supported it. As recently as the summer of 2019, the Biden campaign said he supported the ban, only to be overthrown days later under pressure from Democratic voters as he became the party’s front-runner for the nomination. .

Giving up the budget ban also carries political risks for Biden. While progressives would cheer it, refusing to uphold the ban would further alienate Republicans and voters who oppose abortion and do not want taxpayer dollars used to fund the procedure. It could also provide a stick to strike moderate Democrats in dynamic districts in the 2022 midterm election.

Any real chance of Congress repealing the Hyde Amendment seems slim. Even if the obstruction in the Senate is removed as some Democrats want it to be, the Democrats in the Senate likely don’t have the votes to get it through a 50-50 split chamber. This year, three Democrats – Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, and Tim Kaine of Virginia – voted with Republicans who wanted to add the ban to the Democrats’ COVID-19 relief measure.

Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington), who heads the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds health programs, is personally opposed to the ban and believes it should be repealed, her spokesperson said.

“She is discussing with her colleagues how to go in the Senate and how to build support for it,” said spokeswoman Helen Hare.

House Democrats have taken a more ardent stance. House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) Said last year that with the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) she would not write not another spending bill with the ban.

DeLauro reiterated that commitment on Wednesday, even as House Democrats vie for a historically thin majority.

“The Hyde Amendment is one of the biggest obstacles to low-income women’s access to health care, and I am committed to removing this harmful and discriminatory policy,” she said in a statement. .

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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