Should Taxpayers Pay for Abortions? Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Reader Sue stakes her claim on whether abortions should be publicly funded through means such as Medicaid—something the Hyde Amendment has prohibited for decades (except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother):

Of course the Hyde Amendment should be repealed. If an American woman is poor enough to be on Medicaid, which is really poor, there is no logical reason for Medicaid not to cover abortion services. Abortion should not be a luxury; it is an unfortunate necessity for far too many women in America.

Though in the next sentence, Sue says, “Entities like Planned Parenthood are able to cover much of the cost for patients who cannot pay, thanks to donations from people like me.” If that’s true—if private funding is sufficient to cover the cost of poor women who need abortions—are taxpayer dollars even necessary? The bigger hurdles for poor women seem to be the availability of nearby abortion clinics—which states such as Texas unsuccessfully tried to decrease recently—and state regulations such as mandatory waiting periods. Why not keep the direct funding of abortions a private matter?

This next reader, James, would keep it a private matter. He describes himself as a “pro-choice, well-educated senior male of European descent living in CT and a lifetime very liberal Democrat (aka progressive)”:

If all I considered were my own preferences, I would support the public funding of abortions. If I consider my interests as a Democrat, however, I would support the Hyde Amendment or at least not actively oppose it. Instead, I would encourage individual donors to provide the funds that would pay for abortions of women who could not otherwise afford them. The Hyde Amendment is distinct from protecting women’s reproductive rights, which Democrats should remain committed to.

Also, Democrats should not drive away potential voters who would strongly resist having their tax dollars used to fund something that violated their deeply-held values. So I would advocate that opposition to the Hyde Amendment be dropped from the Democratic platform for the pragmatic interest in assuring that Mr. Trump not be elected.

However, James also acknowledges that selectively excluding abortion from federal funding could be a slippery slope when it comes to other publicly-funding activity that millions of Americans find morally reprehensible:

The Hobby Lobby decision established that government policies should make reasonable accommodations of personal belief. Of course, there is a very serious inconsistency in the way in which this principle is applied. I, for example, believe that the government’s vast military expenditures, the support of the Israeli apartheid regime, the Egyptian police state, and other such nations are profoundly immoral and violate my own most deeply-held values. So I would like to urge a national discussion of what values should be accommodated in legislation.

Along those lines, another pro-choice reader, Barbara, looks to publicly-funded killings on death row:

I am willing to tolerate the Hyde Amendment because it is such a strong matter of conscience for so many in the electorate. I simply wish those who want to keep the Hyde Amendment were also strongly opposed to the death penalty, which I unalterably oppose. If we are opposed to spending government money to end the life of a fetus, then we should be opposed to spending government money to end the life of a living person, no matter how despicable we think that person is.

Your thoughts? Email Meanwhile, in contrast to the polling cited by a previous reader, Destiny suggests that public opposition to the Hyde Amendment is actually high when you frame the issue differently:

Perhaps a better question [than “should taxpayers pay for abortions?”] is: Should a woman be denied insurance coverage for an abortion just because she’s poor?

In fact, [when framed that way,] voters oppose the 40-year-old policy. A poll from Hart Research Associates [last year] shows 86 percent of voters agree that “however we feel about abortion, politicians should not be allowed to deny a woman’s health coverage because she is poor.” And there is broad consensus across age groups (90 percent of voters ages 18 to 34 and 84 percent of voters 65 and over) and party: 85 percent of independents, 79 percent of Republicans, and 94 percent of Democrats all agree.

So when the truth of the Hyde Amendment becomes clear—that politicians use this policy to deny a woman’s decision, based on her income—Hyde’s not so popular at all.

This is about more than politics; the stakes for a woman whose decision is denied by Hyde are high: a woman who wants to get an abortion but is denied is more likely to fall into poverty than one who can get an abortion. Whatever our personal views on abortion, politicians shouldn’t stand in the way of a woman’s decision.