Congressman Henry Hyde, then-chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, is seen on Capitol Hill in 1998. The Illinois lawmaker’s most enduring legacy is perhaps the amendment to the federal budget bearing his name, which prohibits federal Medicaid dollars from being used to pay for abortions. PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES VIA CNA

Commentary

MARION MINER: At stake: 50,000 lives per year

By MARION MINER

The late Henry Hyde was a staunch pro-life U.S. Representative from Illinois from 1975 to 2007. An eloquent defender of unborn babies’ right to life, he was also a consistent champion of legislation that protected their lives and dignity, including the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.

His most enduring legacy, however, began in 1976. That year Congress passed an amendment to the federal budget that became known simply as the Hyde Amendment.

The Hyde Amendment was a major national pro-life victory – perhaps the first after Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. It forbade federal Medicaid dollars from being used to pay for abortions.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, a pro-life research organization, estimated in 2020 that the Hyde Amendment, even though it has been amended to provide some exceptions since 1976, has saved 2.4 million babies from abortion over the course of 40-plus years – over 50,000 lives per year.

But Hyde has always been uniquely vulnerable. It is a part of the federal budget, which must be passed anew by Congress each year, and it has never been enacted into permanent law. (A failed attempt to make it permanent was made in 2017.) That means the continued existence of the Hyde Amendment, along with the unborn lives it protects, is in danger every single year.

Our country has not yet been able to agree on a national policy that protects babies from the lethal violence of abortion. But we have, until now, at least been able to agree to the principle that Americans should not be forced to pay for it. The Hyde Amendment has been supported by members of both parties in Congress since 1976. Republican and Democratic presidents, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, have recommended its inclusion in the budget proposals they have sent to Congress.

Political tolerance of Americans’ reluctance to pay for abortion, however, seems to be reaching an end. President Biden has released his proposed 2021 budget, and the Hyde Amendment is gone. It is no longer enough that the killing of innocents be allowed; it must now also be publicly subsidized through every possible channel, including Medicaid, a program whose purpose is to provide health care services to the poor.

The ball is now in Congress’ court. If the Hyde Amendment is to be reinstated, they must put its protective language back into the federal budget.

That is not going to be an easy task. Democrats who support President Biden’s move to eliminate Hyde hold a large enough majority in the House that any attempt to reinsert the Amendment is likely to fall well short, which means the crucial battleground will be in the U.S. Senate, which is divided 50-50 between the two major political parties. With Vice President Kamala Harris holding the crucial tie-breaking vote, even there the present outlook is bleak.

The Senate, of course, has unique rules. If enough senators object to a controversial bill, they can prolong debate indefinitely by filibuster until the bill is amended. Breaking that filibuster takes 60 votes. Pro-life senators must fight the removal of Hyde and filibuster the budget if necessary until it is reinstated. Fifty thousand lives a year hang in the balance.

Another unique rule, however, which applies only to budget bills, gives pro-abortion senators a way to accomplish an end-run around a filibuster and force through a budget without the Hyde Amendment. Budget reconciliation enables one side to force a budget bill through with only a bare majority.

And that, finally, brings us to Sens. Joe Manchin and Bob Casey, both self-identified pro-life Democrats. Each has expressed support for the Hyde Amendment. If they can be persuaded to stand strong with other Hyde-supporting senators, it would mean no 50-50 tie in the Senate, no tiebreaking vote by Vice President Harris, and no reconciliation of a budget without Hyde. But we will never reach this scenario without a committed stand in the Senate.

Please contact our federal delegation, especially Senators Sasse and Fischer, and ask them to stand strong and do whatever they can to win support from senators across the aisle. Our nation’s longstanding principle against forcing citizens to pay for abortion is at stake. So are 50,000 lives a year.