For the past four decades, lawmakers in Washington, D.C. have largely prohibited federal dollars from paying for low-income people’s abortions. But with a record number of Democratic women elected to office in November and their party holding the majority in the House next year, momentum is building to lift the ban.
By ThinkProgress’ count, at least 183 House members support repealing the Hyde Amendment, a legislative provision that prohibits federal Medicaid dollars from covering abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Hyde is not permanent law but written and passed through congressional appropriations bills annually. Reproductive rights and justice advocates are cautiously optimistic 2019 is finally the year Congress doesn’t attach the coverage restriction or other similar riders to an appropriation bill. The number of members backing repeal so far is a feat of its own.
Lawmakers will also have the opportunity to formally put an end to Hyde. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) told ThinkProgress she will re-introduce the EACH Woman Act for the second time next year; the legislation ensures that anyone who gets health care through the federal government will have coverage for abortion services and that legislators cannot interfere with what private insurance covers. The bill needs support from at least 35 more representatives to pass, according to a ThinkProgress analysis.
ThinkProgress looked at the bill’s current co-sponsors, as well as endorsements from the pro-abortion rights group NARAL, which only supported candidates this election cycle who expressed support for repealing Hyde and the EACH Woman Act. We reached out to every House member who was not a co-sponsor or endorsed by NARAL to determine their position on Hyde, but did not hear back from every office by publication.
“As Co-Chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus, I’m looking forward to working with both the newly-elected and returning members to advance a pro-woman agenda in the new year,” Lee told ThinkProgress by email.
“That includes fighting against the Administration’s efforts to gut the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, protecting access to birth control and reproductive health care, ending discriminatory bans on abortion coverage, and ensuring students receive comprehensive sex education, grounded in evidence and science. It’s time to get to work.”
There’s a sense of optimism given the composition of the incoming House of Representatives. While a member’s gender doesn’t guarantee they’ll support Hyde repeal, it’s a strong predictor, according to a Data for Progress study that looked at Democratic House members’ stances on Hyde. That means the 35 newly elected Democratic women who will serve on the House next year increase the odds of repealing Hyde and codifying protections for abortion coverage. At least 102 women will serve on the House next year, including at least 43 women of color; of the 102, 89 are Democrats.
Of course, nothing is a guarantee. Members of Congress have been known to vote against bills they’ve co-sponsored and endorsements don’t always forecast someone’s future voting record. Still, the amount of support to repeal Hyde on the record so far is unprecedented. Support could even grow as pro-choice activists visit Capitol Hill next year.
All* Above All, an organization dedicated to lifting abortion coverage bans, noted the historic shift after the midterm elections and will now be spending a lot of time educating new members about the EACH Woman Act.
Simultaneously, they’ll be asking House members to pass clean appropriation bills. Usually, the Hyde Amendment is attached to an appropriation bill for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), along with other language that is used to block abortion coverage for other groups who also get health care through the federal government like the military, federal inmates, or Peace Corps volunteers.
“Given what the freshman class looks like, I think we’re going to have a lot of positive outcomes from that outreach,” said Destiny Lopez, co-director of All* Above All. “It’s like constant, vigilant education of members because yes, we have all of these amazing women and women of color and younger folks who have come into Congress now who hopefully are going to be with us without a lot of explanation because they’ll just get it.”
Congresswoman-elect Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) is among those who won’t need to be convinced.
“The Hyde Amendment disproportionately impacts low-income women, women of color, immigrants, and young people who rely on Medicaid for their healthcare coverage,” said Pressley in a statement to ThinkProgress. “I called for the Amendment’s repeal as part of the Equity Agenda I put forward during the campaign, and remain committed to working with advocates and activists to ensure unfettered access to abortion services, including through the passage of the EACH Woman Act.”
While the ultimate goal is to pass the EACH Woman Act (which won’t happen next year with this Senate and president), the short-term objective is to continue to garner more support. Five years ago, it was unconscionable that legislation like the EACH Woman Act would even exist, said Lopez; the bill was first introduced in July 2015. Holding a hearing or vote on the matter would be a step forward.
Meanwhile, prominent figures within the anti-abortion movement are concerned about the sea change. Just last year, the House passed a bill to codify the Hyde Amendment. Now, they are going to have to defend their gains.
“[W]e must also face the reality of a now pro-abortion led House of Representatives that is determined to thwart President Trump’s pro-life policy agenda. The pro-life movement cannot be complacent. We must be prepared to fight to hold the line on important pro-life policies such as the Hyde Amendment,” said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser in a statement the day after the election.
The Hyde Amendment initially passed when only 19 women served on the House. After failing to pass the Human Life Amendment — which recognized the fetus as a “person” from the moment of conception — anti-choice lawmakers conceded to denying low-income people abortion coverage. Led by late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), Congress first barred Medicaid from paying for abortion care in 1976. (There are a few narrow exceptions like for rape or incest but they generally don’t work. States can also opt to use public funds to cover abortion care, but less than half do.)
The 94th Congress looks very different than the 116th Congress, with female voters supporting Democrats more than usual in recent years.
“We brought the power of women of color in particular to the voting booth. And so when I think about abortion rights issues, one of the issues that most impact women of color is the Hyde Amendment,” Lopez told ThinkProgress.
About 51 percent of Medicaid enrollees of reproductive-age subjected to abortion coverage restrictions are women of color, according to All* Above All. When Medicaid doesn’t pay for the abortion, people who live near or below the federal poverty level have to apply for non-profit funds or pay for the procedure themselves; it’s usually a combination of both. An abortion can cost upwards of $3,500, depending on the zip code, facility, and how far along the pregnancy is.
“Just as we’ve been there for them right now, it’s time for our elected leaders to be there for us,” she added.