Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), left, and Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) appear Sept. 30, 2001, in a taping of NBC’s ‘’Meet the Press’’ in Washington, D.C. Named for the late congressman who was its chief sponsor, the Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funds, including those funding Medicaid, to pay for abortion except to save the life of the pregnant woman or in cases of rape or incest. A longtime supporter of the policy, Biden reversed himself under intense pressure in June 2019 while campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president and now advocates repeal of the measure. ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES


DEACON OMAR GUTIERREZ: Election 2020: Hyde Amendment in the balance

Readers have been contacting me about my last column, angry that I did not tell people how to vote in the upcoming election. Others were angry that I did tell people how to vote, apparently. The truth is that I am barred from doing so by law. But the law does not bar me from speaking out about public policy. And this is where the problem is, since some policies, like abortion, are linked so closely to one party.

Recently, Democrats for Life of America paid for a full-page ad in the New York Times. In it, they point out that “many Democratic leaders support abortion at any time, for any reason,” and they asked that their party reconsider the platform’s promise to repeal the Hyde Amendment. If repealed, federal funds will for the first time be available to cover abortions for women on Medicaid. Given the number of women of reproductive age on Medicaid and the abortion rate, that’s potentially 167,140 abortions every year that would be paid by your and my tax dollars. What’s more, there is talk of creating a Medicare-like option for uninsured Americans, which we can assume will also cover abortion.

Since the 1980s, the abortion rate has dropped every year under both Democratic and Republican presidents. Part of the driving force for this has been the decline of the birth rate. U.S. women who can are simply not having as many children. However, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, the greatest obstacle to women seeking an abortion is the cost. So, once federal funding for abortions is allowed and they become free or significantly less expensive, the abortion rate will almost certainly rise for the first time in decades and the number above will only grow.

For many years now I have been pointing Catholics to the U.S. Bishops’ document on voting: “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” There the bishops teach that faithful Catholics can disagree about the best way to handle the environment or to lower the poverty rate. But, they say, there are certain evils, intrinsic evils, that we cannot support and, more importantly, that we must oppose.

Abortion is not the only issue this election. I wholeheartedly agree. But, with the bishops, I also agree it is the “preeminent” one and particularly this year because repealing the Hyde Amendment will result in more abortions. Claims to the contrary, that somehow greater access to health care or to social services will reduce the rate, have never been demonstrated.

Now, I am not saying that a Catholic must vote for the opposing major party. There are third parties, after all, and one can always write in a candidate to fulfill their obligation to vote. But I am reminded of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who gave us the Consistent Ethic of Life. The Consistent Ethic argues that there are many life issues. To be pro-life, then, we ought to be concerned with all of them, from immigration, to the death penalty, to just wage, to health care.

However, in a 1988 interview with Charles Isenhart, Cardinal Bernardin insisted that he had “never said (the life issues) were all equal or that they all required the same attention.” In fact, he said he deplored such a notion. “I don’t see how you can subscribe to the consistent ethic and then vote for someone who feels that abortion is a ‘basic right’ of the individual.” And he finished the interview saying, “Whatever diminishes life or destroys it is evil. That vision is the yardstick.” I agree, and I pray more Catholics do too.

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