The Abortion Policy Hillary Clinton Keeps Talking About, Explained

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton makes a point during the Brown & Black Forum, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CHARLIE NEIBERGALL
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton makes a point during the Brown & Black Forum, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CHARLIE NEIBERGALL

On the campaign trail this week, Hillary Clinton is zeroing in on a little-known federal policy that makes it nearly impossible for impoverished women to get an abortion.

Clinton has repeatedly referenced her support for repealing the Hyde Amendment, a decades-old budget rider that prohibits federal funding from covering abortion services. In practice, Hyde ensures that low-income women can’t use their Medicaid plans to pay for an abortion, leaving them stuck paying hundreds of dollars out of pocket for the procedure.

At a campaign rally in New Hampshire over the weekend, Clinton called for getting rid of the policy, which has been quietly approved in the budget appropriations process every year since 1976. She said it represents a law “making it harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

“Any right that requires you to take extraordinary measures to access it is no right at all,” Clinton said at that event.


And on Monday evening, at the Brown & Black Presidential Forum at Drake University, Clinton reiterated her position that Congress should repeal the Hyde Amendment, referring to the right to access abortion as “a fundamental human right.”

Although Hillary Clinton has opposed the Hyde Amendment for years — a record that she referenced at Monday’s Brown & Black Presidential Forum — it’s still very unusual for Democratic politicians to focus on the issue on the campaign trail.

Advocating for taxpayer funding for abortion has long been controversial, even among pro-choice lawmakers. Maintaining this division between federal dollars and abortion services was a political concession that Democrats made decades ago. Since then, the Hyde Amendment has spawned similar restrictions banning abortion coverage for government employees, Peace Corps volunteers, federal inmates, military personnel, and Native American women. It’s simply become the status quo — and, in many cases, is seen as a reasonable compromise.

But reproductive justice advocates, who have recently stepped up their lobbying efforts against Hyde, point out that preventing taxpayer funds from being used for abortions has serious consequences. Poor Americans are increasingly struggling to afford the cost of ending a pregnancy. In fact, low-income patients often can’t get an abortion at all because it takes them too long to save up the money for it — and, when they go on to give birth, they’re at even greater risk of slipping deeper into poverty.

“If Clinton makes the Hyde Amendment a 2016 campaign issue, it will be a long-overdue step toward addressing the intersection between economic insecurity and reproductive health,” Christina Cauterucci argues in Slate.


There’s also some evidence it will resonate with voters. Recent polling has confirmed that voters see abortion access as an economic issue for women. According to one poll conducted by Hart Research, about 86 percent of voters agree that “politicians should not be allowed to deny a woman’s health coverage for abortion because she is poor.”

The candidate’s renewed focus on the Hyde Amendment comes just a few days after Planned Parenthood announced it will back Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary due to her record on women’s health issues. The organization plans to spend at least $20 million during this election cycle.