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Hyde, other pro-life measures survive in spending bill

President Biden signs an omnibus spending bill Tuesday (March 15). Screen capture from White House video

WASHINGTON (BP) – The Hyde Amendment and other bans on federal funding of abortion survived months of Democratic attempts to eliminate them and gained enactment in an omnibus spending bill signed by President Biden Tuesday (March 15).

In a White House ceremony, Biden signed into law a $1.5 trillion package that will fund federal government agencies through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The House of Representatives and Senate approved the legislation March 9 and 10, respectively.

The survival of the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life “riders,” as they are known, in the spending bill came after leaders in both chambers of the Democratic-controlled Congress sought to remove them.

The House approved spending measures in July 2021 without Hyde and other pro-life measures. Spending proposals offered by the Senate’s Democratic leadership also excluded long-standing pro-life policies. In addition, Biden’s budget proposal also failed to include the abortion funding bans.

The Democrats’ efforts faltered, however, when it came time to pass a long-term spending measure, especially in an evenly divided Senate.

“The omnibus spending bill rightly includes long-standing life amendments like the Hyde Amendment that protect precious preborn babies and American consciences,” said Chelsea Sobolik, director of public policy for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

“Every person is made in the image of God, and the United States has a responsibility to reflect that truth in its laws,” she said in written comments.

In the last year, pro-life organizations, including the ERLC, had urged Congress to protect the riders in spending legislation.

The ERLC sent multiple letters to members of Congress during this session that called for retention of the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life measures. The commission, which has worked for a comprehensive ban on federal funding of abortion, included the protection of pro-life riders in appropriations bills as one of its public-policy priorities in both 2021 and 2022.

The Hyde Amendment is the best known of the pro-life riders that must gain approval each year in spending bills. It is estimated Hyde, which has prohibited federal funds in Medicaid and other programs from paying for abortions in every year since 1976, has saved the lives of about 2½ million unborn children.

Messengers to the SBC’s annual meeting in June 2021 approved a resolution that denounced any attempt to rescind the Hyde Amendment and urged the adoption of all pro-life riders.

In addition to Hyde, other pro-life policies included in the omnibus spending package signed into law included the:

  • Weldon Amendment, which has barred since 2004 funding for government programs that discriminate against health care workers or institutions that object to abortion.
  • Helms Amendment, a rider first approved in 1973 that prohibits foreign aid funds from being used for abortion as a method of family planning.
  • Dornan Amendment, which was first adopted in 1988 and has barred in most of the years since federal and congressionally approved local funds from paying for abortions in the District of Columbia.
  • Smith Amendment, which has barred in nearly every year since 1984 federal employee health plans from paying for abortions.
  • Kemp-Kasten Amendment, a 1985 measure that bans overseas family planning money from going to any organization that is involved in a program of forced abortion or sterilization.

In a written statement, the Susan B. Anthony List thanked pro-life allies in Congress “who fought to preserve vital Hyde protections and made then non-negotiable while exposing the radical [Democratic leaders’] abortion agenda over the last year.”

Abortion-rights advocates criticized the inclusion of the pro-life riders in the spending package, as well as its failure to increase spending for international and domestic family planning. They also decried the new law’s refusal to codify revocation of what is commonly referred to as the Mexico City Policy, which bars organizations from receiving federal funds unless they agree not to perform or promote abortions internationally.

“[A] spending package that includes the Hyde Amendment and fails to permanently repeal the [Mexico City Policy] in yet another federal budget … is deeply disappointing,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a written release.

Democratic opposition to the Hyde Amendment has grown in recent years. Biden supported the amendment during his 36 years in the U.S. Senate, but he reversed his position in 2019 while running for the Democratic presidential nomination.