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The Hyde Amendment:
Protecting Babies and Their Mothers
Tessa Longbons | 10 September 2020
In 1976, Congressman Henry Hyde proposed an amendment to a funding bill to block federal Medicaid tax dollars from covering abortion. For over four decades, what came to be known as the Hyde Amendment received bipartisan support and has ensured that federal Medicaid now covers abortion only in cases of rape, incest, or risk to the life of the mother. The impact on abortion in the United States has been profound: over 2.4 million lives are estimated to have been saved by Hyde, including nearly 30,000 in just the first half of 2020.
However, the historically unified support for the amendment is eroding. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has reversed his longstanding position in favor of the Hyde Amendment, and the official 2020 platform of the Democratic Party calls for its repeal. If these efforts are successful, the Hyde Amendment's roll-back would lead to tens of thousands more abortions every year and adversely affect lower-income women.
Even under current conditions, the effects of public funding of abortion are apparent. States can and do use their own funds to pay for abortions, with 16 states currently funding abortions for Medicaid-eligible women. In the states with the highest abortion volumes, state tax dollars pay for a substantial portion of the total. With more abortions than any other state in America, California publishes reports suggesting that more than half of its abortions are state-funded. In New York, the number-two abortion state, Medicaid covers nearly half of all abortions. Together, these two states alone are estimated to account for 28 percent of all abortions occurring in the United States, indicating that state-funded abortion is already a significant driver of the national abortion rate. By extending federal tax dollars to abortion, the Hyde Amendment's repeal would almost certainly cause an increase in abortion rates across the country.
To see how the loss of the Hyde Amendment would impact low-income women, we need only look to the states that have historically funded abortions for women eligible for Medicaid. Recently, my colleagues and I published a study examining pregnancy outcomes of women on Medicaid over a 15-year period in 17 states that paid for abortions during that time. The study found that women whose first Medicaid-funded pregnancy was a live birth were likely to go on to have more live births. In contrast, women whose first pregnancy ended in abortion were likely to go on to have more abortions. This was particularly pronounced among African-American women, who were at increased risk for abortion compared to White and Hispanic women.
Overall, women who started with a live birth had fewer subsequent pregnancies, while women who started with abortions had more pregnancies, many of which ended in additional abortions. Each pregnancy carries a chance of bleeding, infection, and other adverse events. By increasing the number of pregnancies a woman is likely to experience, Medicaid-funded abortion can heighten the risk of pregnancy-related complications for women.
Current limitations on federal funding of abortion keep abortion rates lower than they otherwise would be, particularly among vulnerable low-income and minority women. They also protect women from embarking down a path of multiple abortions that can endanger their health. If the Hyde Amendment is repealed and federal funding is allocated to abortion, the lives of thousands of unborn children and the health of their mothers will be in jeopardy.
Charlotte Lozier Institute