IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Why Democratic spending bills don't include abortion restrictions

It's striking to see - for the first time in decades - a White House budget and House-passed spending bills without restrictions on abortion funds.
An exam room at the Whole Women's Health Clinic, one of the abortion providers that sued the state for a stringent new rule on clinics of its type, in McAllen, Texas.
An exam room at the Whole Women's Health Clinic in McAllen, Texas.JENNIFER WHITNEY / JENNIFER WHITNEY/The New York Times

It was 45 years ago when then-Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) successfully created a policy that endured: the Hyde Amendment prohibited federal funds to pay for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the woman, and the measure has remained in place ever since.

The bad news for opponents of the policy is that the Hyde Amendment is sticking around a bit longer. The good news, as Time magazine reported yesterday, is that congressional Democrats have done something Americans haven't seen in more than a generation.

The House of Representatives passed a package of spending bills this week without provisions banning federal funding for most abortions in the U.S. and abroad, marking the first time in decades that the restrictions have not been included.

It's not just the Democratic-led House: President Joe Biden unveiled a White House budget proposal in May that removed language banning the use of federal funds for abortions.

For many progressives involved in the fight for reproductive rights, the shift is both welcome and overdue. As Time's report added, "Democrats and reproductive rights groups say the amendment creates significant barriers for low-income women and women of color, who are disproportionately affected by the ban. Among women of reproductive age, 29% of Black women and 25% of Hispanic women had health insurance coverage through Medicaid in 2019, compared with 15% of white women and 12% of Asian women, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights."

And Medicaid, of course, is the program most affected by the Hyde Amendment.

While this week's developments represent a big step in a progressive direction, the House-passed spending bills are likely to look quite different once the Senate is done with them. The problem is not just the sizable Republican minority; it's also conservatives in the Democratic majority.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) vowed last month to support the Hyde Amendment in "every way possible," which will likely extend the policy's future a bit longer.

But for the amendment opponents, it's nevertheless striking to see -- for the first time in decades -- a White House budget and House-passed spending bills without restrictions on abortion funds.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who's helped champion the shift, concluded this week, "As an organizer most of my life, these kinds of victories absolutely move an agenda forward."