Ever since the Democratic National Convention concluded, and especially since Hillary Clinton chose Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine for vice president, the federal abortion funding limit called the Hyde Amendment has been much in the news. That is because the amendment, which restricts federal funding for abortion to instances of rape and incest or where the life of the mother would be endangered if the baby were carried to term, has been a fixture of national policy since 1976. Now Democrats want to change that.
In past years, the Democratic platform vaguely referenced public funding, saying access to abortion should be legally permitted without regard to a woman’s “ability to pay.” The new platform approved last month in Philadelphia, however, is explicit: “We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.”
The strength of this statement was reinforced by Kaine himself, who claims to be a lifelong supporter of the policy. Pressed on the matter of his convictions now, Kaine says he will support Hillary Clinton and the new Democrats’ efforts to repeal Hyde.
These are not just words. If elected, Kaine will preside over the Senate as vice president, and he could conceivably be called to cast the fifty-first and deciding vote on Hyde’s fate. Reporters on the campaign trail should press him on this point, as it is the most concrete step he could be asked to take on an issue of enormous import to the American conscience.
Hyde Is About Government Force
Hyde, after all, is not just a policy provision governing $50 million in federal spending each year. It is an expression of the conviction that American taxpayers have the right not to participate in a practice most regard as morally wrong.
Hyde has also been long-established policy, a demilitarized zone of sorts separating the public from an unsavory industry in which the majority prefers to play no part. Just last year, the editorial board of The Washington Post, which favors legal abortion and Democrats generally, criticized congressional Democrats for opposing a GOP-led measure to attach the Hyde Amendment to funds for victims of human trafficking. The Post wrote, “[T]he question of whether and how congressional appropriations can be used for abortions has long been settled, for better or worse.”
Hillary Clinton’s vow to upend this policy is deeply unsettling. But another point is worth mentioning. The literal term “Hyde Amendment” applies to the language Rep. Henry Hyde applied to the annual spending bill for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services when he originally offered it on the floor of the House of Representatives. Its prime target is the Medicaid program for the poor, but, in what is known as a rider, the amendment is part of general provisions and limits all funds appropriated to HHS.
Democrats Want to Go Much Further
Notice that the Democratic platform states the party’s opposition not just to the Hyde Amendment, but to “federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion.” The list of laws and policies the platform covers transcends Hyde and is enormous.
It would include the Helms Amendment, an even older policy dating from 1973 that prevents U.S. foreign assistance from paying for abortions performed overseas (which number in the millions). It would also include the Smith Amendment, which bars health insurance plans that cover elective abortion from participating in the Federal Employee Health Benefits program. And the Dornan Amendment, which covers congressionally appropriated funds for the District of Columbia.
That’s not to mention state abortion limits, and even laws and policies that have nothing to do with funding but only address the most basic health and safety standards for abortion facilities or even informed consent. Thirty states have declined to pay for abortions under their state programs for the poor, and the Democratic platform targets those policies for repeal as well.
As the federal government and the states continue to expand public programs and subsidies for the poor and middle class, fully implementing the Clinton policy could mean that American taxpayers pay for more than half of all abortions in the United States. A single-payer system would convert Uncle Sam into the nation’s abortionist.
This is not the “shining city on a hill” our leaders have long envisioned our nation to be. Instead, it is the unleashing of a blood-dimmed tide, a rejection of who we are as a people: welcoming, hopeful, guardians of the vulnerable. The Democratic Party once stood for these principles. In rejecting Hyde, Clinton and Kaine are turning their backs on the party’s own past.