By Jennifer Popik, Director of Federal Legislation
Editor’s note. This appears in the July issue of National Right to Life News, the pro-life newspaper. Please share with family and friends.
As Congress returns to Washington D.C. following the 4th of July recess, work is set to resume on the annual appropriations process.
Given the current composition of Congress, a national law protecting preborn children and their mothers from the tragedy of abortion is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. However, one of the most important impacts that Congress can have is to work to ensure that no taxpayer dollars are used to pay for abortion.
After Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973, various federal health programs, including Medicaid, simply started paying for elective abortions. On September 30, 1976, an amendment by pro-life Congressman Henry Hyde (R-Il.) to prevent federal Medicaid funds from paying for abortions was enacted. The Hyde Amendment is widely recognized as having a significant impact on the number of abortions in the United States over an estimated 2.5 million lives.
The Hyde Amendment, and similar provisions, have enjoyed bipartisan support for over 40 years and have proven to be the greatest domestic abortion reduction measure ever enacted by Congress.
Congress must pass all the necessary appropriations bills to fund the government for the upcoming fiscal year by September 30th of each year or pass a continuing resolution, or the government will shut down. With Republicans again in control of the House, each of the committees is working though debating and marking up bills in all 12 appropriations committees, rather than simply crafting a large omnibus bill. This has meant broader member involvement, and more robust pro-life debate.
The presidency of Joe Biden marked one of the sharpest departures from this long-standing principle that tax dollars should not fund abortion. The Biden Administration has taken numerous aggressive steps to circumvent the clear Congressional intent in regards to prohibitions of tax-payer funded abortion. The House Republicans are hard at work not only preserving longstanding pro-life protections but are also trying to reverse the numerous abortion-expanding policies of the Biden Administration.
Some of the committees have completed their bills, and others are set to start or complete their work in the coming weeks. In addition to including existing pro-life protections (in the bills considered so far), appropriators voted to block the newly-implemented Biden Administration policy which funds elective abortions at Veterans Affairs medical centers with taxpayer dollars. Appropriators also included a provision to stop the illegal actions of the Food and Drug Administration in regards to mailing chemical abortion drugs. In addition, the 2024 Defense Appropriations bill would block the recent Department of Defense from paying for abortion travel in violation of the long-standing policy against funding elective abortion with taxpayer money.
A few other highlights include a new provision to nullify the 2016 legalization of physician assisted suicide in the District of Columbia. Also, in 2022, it came to light that babies were being aborted very late in pregnancy at Washington Surgi-Clinic in Washington D.C, possibly using illegal partial-birth abortions. While relevant D.C. officials and Biden Administration officials declined to investigate, language was included by appropriators to require a report regarding D.C.’s enforcement of the Partial-Birth Enforcement Ban Act.
Finally, House appropriators included language to restore the Trump-era “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” policy which would make foreign Non-Governmental Organizations that perform and promote abortion overseas ineligible for U.S. funding.
Even in the post-Dobbs v. Jackson environment (which returned abortion-related legislating to elected representatives), opposition to tax finding of abortion is about 60%. The 2023 Knights of Columbus/Marist Poll taken between January 6- 9 2023 (1,025 adults) shows that 60% oppose taxpayer funded abortion including 59% of independents. This is an increase of 6 pts from the previous year.
In addition, a 2022 McLaughlin & Associates poll conducted after the November 2022 election found that 58% of respondents are opposed to federal funding of abortions.
While House appropriators are working to protect life in the remaining appropriations bills not yet taken up, the Senate is currently under Democrat control and will make it difficult to add new pro-life provisions over and above the existing Hyde and related amendments. That said, it is imperative that Republicans continue to maintain all current pro-life protections, and to fight to stop numerous abortion-expanding Biden Administration efforts.