Democrats dodge abortion fight with plan to keep Hyde AmendmentJuly 3, 2020
House Democrats will keep a decades-old ban on government funding for abortion in spending bills this year, dodging an election-year clash with Republicans and disappointing liberal lawmakers and activists.
Senior Democrats had been considering scrapping the so-called Hyde amendment, which has restricted federal funding for most abortion services since 1976, amid a hard push from the party’s left flank.
But Democratic leaders ultimately decided to keep the language to avoid a brutal fight they were unlikely to win with a GOP-led Senate, according to multiple aides and lawmakers. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats ultimately agreed it wasn’t the right time to make the push, with the party potentially just one election away from controlling the House, Senate and White House and able to enact more sweeping policy changes.
Repealing the language also risked flaring tensions within the Democratic caucus, with vulnerable moderates anxious about an abortion battle on the House floor just months before voters go to the polls.
Pelosi held a conference call Wednesday with several leaders of the Pro-Choice Caucus, including Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), to discuss the decision, according to several Democratic aides. A draft of the appropriations bill that includes the Hyde language is expected to be unveiled Monday.
Several senior Democrats confirmed the issue had been under serious discussion. And some privately noted that internal caucus politics were also at play, with the powerful Appropriations gavel up for grabs next year.
“We’re talking about what we think the best course of action is,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who leads the Appropriations subcommittee panel that oversees the issue, said in a brief interview earlier this week.
DeLauro, who is one of three Democrats running for the Appropriations chairmanship, declined to say whether she personally wanted to remove the provision this year, saying: “It’s all being discussed.”
Some senior Democratic aides privately argued that repealing the Hyde amendment was never going to happen, telling POLITICO that Democrats lacked the votes to kill a GOP procedural motion that would have targeted it — a tactic that Republicans have successfully weaponized against them on contentious issues.
Other Democrats still argued the language should be scrapped.
“Abortion access is a right. That means it should not be available just to those who can afford it,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.). “House Democrats have done more than ever before to protect the rights of all women, and I believe that should include the ultimate repeal of the Hyde Amendment.”
The news is sure to disappoint abortion rights groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL, which had urged House Democrats to at least attempt to repeal the language since the party is in the majority.
Liberal groups have pushed Democrats to strip the provision every year since taking back the House in the 2018 elections. Their campaign gained steam last summer after Vice President Joe Biden — a long-time supporter of the Hyde language — announced he had changed his position amid mounting blowback during the fiercely competitive Democratic primary.
“We’ve been building and building and building and now is the moment to do this because we have the House, because we have a pro-choice majority in the House, because we have Biden on the record,” said Destiny Lopez, co-director of All Above All, a reproductive rights advocacy group.
“I think that we should no longer be calling anyone ‘pro-choice’ if they don’t support the repeal of Hyde and actually do something about it because choice is meaningless if you can’t actually afford to get the care.”
The vast majority of House Democrats say, in principle, they support scrapping the Hyde language, which advocates say prevents many low-income women from being able to afford abortion services. The caucus, as a whole, has moved dramatically to the left on this issue since Democrats last ruled the House a decade ago.
Further fueling the movement, a progressive challenger in Illinois took out one of the party’s last remaining anti-abortion members, Rep. Dan Lipinski, this spring.
But privately, many Democrats questioned why they should force the matter with Republicans — potentially with a government shutdown at stake — just months before their most vulnerable members are on the ballot. Moderates in Trump-won districts sought to avoid the issue, anticipating GOP attack ads that would accuse them of supporting “taxpayer-funded abortions.”
The internal debate over the language gained momentum in 2020 amid a three-way race to lead the powerful House Appropriations panel next year.
DeLauro is vying for the position with two other senior Democrats: Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). Kaptur, who’s shifted to the left on abortion rights in recent years, had already vowed to eliminate the Hyde language in a candidate letter she sent to the Democratic caucus this year.
Wasserman Schultz declined to comment on the issue earlier this week, but an aide said after publication of this story that Wasserman Schultz supports repealing the Hyde Amendment this year.
Alice Miranda Ollstein contributed to this report.