The pro-life policies that could be gutted in the next federal budget

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Every year, the president makes a budget request to Congress. As part of the funding process for the federal government, Congress then debates and votes on various appropriations bills for federal agencies and programs.

Certain pro-life funding restrictions on abortions, abortion coverage, and abortion advocacy have been regularly enacted into law as part of these budget bills. The policies effectively function as a “memo” on a check, limiting the use of the funds and proscribing what they cannot be used for, explained Autumn Christensen, policy director for the Susan B. Anthony List, in a call with reporters last week.

However, these policies are not permanent law but are rather "riders," meaning they must be passed as part of budget bills in order to be enacted. The pro-life Susan B. Anthony List warns that this “patchwork” of policies could be at risk in President Biden’s budget, if he excludes or alters the amendments. Biden in 2019 reversed his long-standing support of prohibitions on federal funding of abortions, and the White House in 2021 has reaffirmed Biden’s support for ending these prohibitions.

The amendments date back decades, beginning in the 1970s. After the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, members of Congress began introducing restrictions on federal funding of abortions and abortion promotion, both in the United States and abroad.

Perhaps the most notable of these policies is the Hyde Amendment, named for former Republican congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois. The amendment bars federal funding of elective abortions through Medicaid, and was first enacted in 1976.

“Since 1976, federal programs have been governed by the principle that no taxpayer funds should be used to pay for elective abortion,” said Jamie Dangers, legislative director for the Susan B. Anthony List, last week.

The Hyde amendment "didn’t solve the abortion problem itself, but it did remove the financial incentive that normalized abortions, and it spared Americans like us from forced complicity in paying for abortion,” Dangers said.

The policy was not met with unanimous support in Congress, as in 1977 the federal government shut down three times over debates on public funding of abortions. Some House Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to repeal the policy, including during the Clinton administration. Yet other Democrats - including then-Senator Biden - supported it, making the policy bipartisan.

Now, however, both House Democratic leadership and President Biden have said they oppose the Hyde amendment, threatening both the policy itself and similar amendments which have been enacted in its wake. Various pro-life funding restrictions have been enacted over the years, applying both to domestic funding and U.S. foreign assistance, in “the spirit of Hyde,” Dangers explained.

One of these amendments is named after Biden himself. In 1981, Congress passed an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act prohibiting funding of international biomedical research related to abortion or involuntary sterilizations.

The amendment, named the “Biden amendment” after then-Senator Biden, has been enacted as part of State and Foreign Operations appropriations bills.

Other such amendments apply to foreign assistance, including the Helms amendment, which bars direct funding of abortions internationally.

Pro-life groups fought to build upon this amendment after it was enacted, saying that foreign assistance was still going to international pro-abortion groups which were further enabled to perform abortions. Thus, the “Mexico City Policy” was announced by President Ronald Reagan’s delegate to a 1984 UN population conference, stating that the United States would not fund foreign NGOs that perform or promote abortions as a method of family planning.

The Trump administration expanded that policy to apply to more than $8 billion of global health assistance. As the policy was an executive action it can be repealed or reinstated by a president, and President Biden repealed the policy in January.

The Siljander amendment prohibits funding of international lobbying for or against abortion. In 2019, the State Department enforced this amendment in cutting funding of the Organization of American States (OAS), claiming that an OAS organ was engaging in pro-abortion advocacy.

The Kemp-Kasten amendment prohibits federal funding of international organizations or programs which support or participate in forced abortions and sterilizations. The Trump administration invoked this policy in its 2017 decision to withhold funding for the UN’s population program (UNFPA). The administration alleged that the UNFPA partnered with China on family planning, and was complicit in forced abortions and sterilizations under China’s mandatory two-child policy.

Within the United States, several amendments also restrict funding of abortions, abortion coverage, or abortion advocacy. The Dornan amendment restricts both federal and local funds from being used for abortion in the District of Columbia. The Smith amendment applies to health insurance plans for federal employees, ensuring that the government is not subsidizing plans that cover abortion.

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The Dickey-Wicker amendment bans funding of research that is destructive to human embryos. The Hyde/Weldon amendment states that a government cannot force health entities to participate in abortions or cover abortions.

The civil rights office at the Department of Health and Human Services issued a notice of violation to the state of California in 2020 for violating this amendment, in forcing employers – including Catholic religious – to cover abortion in employee health plans. The agency ultimately withheld Medicaid funding to the state, for failing to comply with the law.

Once Biden releases the details of his budget request, House committees will begin marking up appropriations bills for various federal agencies and programs, in June. House Appropriations Committee chair Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) has made clear her opposition to the Hyde Amendment. The full House is expected to consider appropriations bills in July.

In the Senate, several key swing votes sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) who reportedly promised to fight to preserve the Hyde Amendment.

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