Despite promises from 2020 presidential candidates and efforts from left-wing Democrats, the ban on federal funding for most abortions remains in place. This week, amid spending negotiations in the House, a freshman representative from Massachusetts, Ayanna Pressley, pushed a proposal to eliminate the Hyde Amendment, which bans reimbursement for most abortions through programs such as Medicaid, from the Health and Human Services budget. Democratic leaders quickly shut Pressley down, refusing to even bring her amendment to the House floor for a vote. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she doesn’t “see an opportunity to get rid of [Hyde]” given Republican control of the White House and Senate. This quiet face-off contrasts with the anti-Hyde rhetoric Democratic candidates are using on the 2020 campaign trail; even former Vice President Joe Biden, who consistently voted for the abortion-funding ban throughout his career in the U.S. Senate, recently bowed to pressure to reverse his position.
Since the Hyde Amendment was first attached to the federal budget in 1976, it has proved remarkably resilient, surviving multiple court cases and congressional challenges. The funding ban was just as contentious in the 1970s as it is today: Henry Hyde, the Republican representative from Illinois who was the amendment’s ardent defender and namesake, viewed it as a way to save unborn lives “which otherwise might be destroyed with the use of taxpayers' funds.” Hyde’s progressive opponents, such as Democratic Representative Elizabeth Holtzman of New York, called it cowardly, creating a form of discrimination against poor women that “is both morally [and] constitutionally repugnant.”