House Democrats are setting the stage to overturn the longstanding ban on taxpayer-funded abortion in anticipation of a Biden administration.
Democrats denounced as racist the Hyde Amendment, a 1976 prohibition on the use of federal funding for abortions, at a Tuesday subcommittee hearing. President-elect Joe Biden supported the amendment throughout his Senate career before flip-flopping during the 2020 Democratic primary, and Democratic lawmakers intend to hold him to his new position opposing the amendment. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) said any curb on taxpayer funding is "discriminatory."
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"Now is the time to empower all women to be able to make deeply personal life decisions without politicians inserting themselves into the doctor's office," DeLauro said.
Rep. Lois Frankel (D., Fla.) described the Hyde Amendment as "one of the best examples" of systemic racism.
"The Supreme Court gave women in Roe v. Wade the constitutional right to safe, legal abortion," Frankel said. "With the Hyde Amendment, that right is really for people who can afford it."
Subcommittee Republicans said forcing taxpayers to pay for abortion would violate their First Amendment and conscience rights. Rep. Tom Cole (R., Okla.) said federal funding of abortion is a matter of moral and religious freedom.
"The Hyde Amendment protects the conscience rights of the great majority of Americans who are opposed to publicly funded abortions for religious, moral, or simply fiscal reasons," Cole said.
Biden used similar rhetoric in the past to defend the Hyde Amendment. He boasted in 1994 that he had voted for the policy more than 50 times because "those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them." He abandoned that position at the start of the 2020 campaign after facing pressure from campaign staffers.
The Hyde Amendment has been shown to reduce the number of abortions. Family Research Council, a pro-life group, released a study that found that the amendment prevented more than 2.4 million abortions. Lawmakers clashed over the racial implications of prohibiting taxpayer-funded abortions. Democratic lawmakers argued that banning federal funding of abortions would adversely impact low-income minority families. Washington congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler (R.) described the notion that poorer minority parents should end their pregnancies as "outrageous."
"We keep taking this back up to just talking about one person in the equation that's the mother, but you have to acknowledge the personhood of the other person in this equation who pays the ultimate price," Beutler said.
Cole also defended the Hyde Amendment, saying that taxpayer dollars would be better aimed at saving the lives of expectant mothers and children than for abortion.
"Women of color and all women deserve resources such as prenatal care, well-baby care, and more child care options and support to enable them to fully care for their children," Cole said. "We need to be advancing public policies that support women of color and their families, and not policies that end the lives of the unborn."