Every year, the president makes a budget request to Congress. As part of the funding process for the federal government, Congress then debates and votes on various appropriations bills for federal agencies and programs.
Certain pro-life funding restrictions on abortions, abortion coverage, and abortion advocacy have been regularly enacted into law as part of these budget bills. The policies effectively function as a “memo” on a check, limiting the use of the funds and proscribing what they cannot be used for, explained Autumn Christensen, policy director for the Susan B. Anthony List, in a call with reporters last week.
However, these policies are not permanent law but are rather “riders,” meaning they must be passed as part of budget bills in order to be enacted. The pro-life Susan B. Anthony List warns that this “patchwork” of policies could be at risk in President Biden’s budget, if he excludes or alters the amendments. Biden in 2019 reversed his long-standing support of prohibitions on federal funding of abortions, and the White House in 2021 has reaffirmed Biden’s support for ending these prohibitions.
The amendments date back decades, beginning in the 1970s. After the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, members of Congress began introducing restrictions on federal funding of abortions and abortion promotion, both in the United States and abroad.
Perhaps the most notable of these policies is the Hyde Amendment, named for former Republican congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois. The amendment bars federal funding of elective abortions through Medicaid, and was first enacted in 1976.
“Since 1976, federal programs have been governed by the principle that no taxpayer funds should be used to pay for elective abortion,” said Jamie Dangers, legislative director for the Susan B. Anthony List, last week.
The Hyde amendment “didn’t solve the abortion problem itself, but it did remove the financial incentive that normalized abortions, and it spared Americans like us from forced complicity in paying for abortion,” Dangers said.
The policy was not met with unanimous support in Congress, as in 1977 the federal government shut down three times over debates on public funding of abortions. Some House Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to repeal the policy, including during the Clinton administration. Yet other Democrats – including then-Senator Biden – supported it, making the policy bipartisan.