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Biden's Budget Proposal Reverses A Decades-Long Ban On Abortion Funding

President Joe Biden speaks during the National Memorial Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery Monday. His budget proposal drops a decades-long ban on public funding for abortion.
Alex Brandon
President Joe Biden speaks during the National Memorial Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery Monday. His budget proposal drops a decades-long ban on public funding for abortion.

President Biden's budget proposal fulfills a campaign promise to remove a longstanding ban on federal funding for most abortions known as the Hyde Amendment.

The budget plan, released late last week, would drop the policy which has restricted funding for abortion through federal programs such as Medicaid. The rule, in effect since 1980, includes exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or to save a pregnant woman's life.

Biden has been under pressure from progressive Democrats to reverse Hyde, which reproductive rights groups say disproportionately harms low-income women and people of color.

A longstanding compromise

Abortion rights advocates have praised the move; a statement from Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson called the Hyde Amendment "racist, sexist, deeply unjust" and thanked Biden for working to remove it.

Abortion rights opponents, meanwhile, argue that taxpayers with moral objections to abortion should not be compelled to help pay for it.

In a statement, Marjorie Dannenfelser of the anti-abortion rights group the Susan B. Anthony List called Hyde a "common-ground...principle," and urged members of Congress to work to include it.

Biden, a lifelong Catholic, supported Hyde for decades — as did many other Democrats, often as a compromise position with Republicans. It often has been a sticking point in negotiations over healthcare policy, including the debate surrounding the Affordable Care Act and subsequent legislation.

The Biden budget proposal is far from the last word on the matter; Republicans are expected to work to reinstate the Hyde language during budget negotiations. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy released a statement criticizing Biden's budget, saying it "breaks with decades of settled precedent by calling for direct taxpayer-funded abortion."

Among Democrats, a turning tide

During the lead-up to the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Biden reversed his longtime position on Hyde, joining other Democratic hopefuls in saying he would work to overturn it.

"If I believe heath care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone's zip code," Biden said in June 2019.

Biden said his position had changed in response to changing circumstances, including increasing efforts by Republican lawmakers to restrict abortion.

"It was not under attack," Biden said. "As it is now."

Later that month, in a forum on abortion rights hosted by Planned Parenthood in South Carolina, Biden explained his reversal, saying he'd supported Hyde in an effort to expand federally-funded healthcare. But he suggested that for low-income women who rely on federal programs, Hyde had become an obstacle to full healthcare access.

"It became really clear to me that although the Hyde Amendment was designed to try to split the difference here to make sure women still had access, you can't have access if, in fact, everyone's covered by a federal policy," he said.

Promising to reverse multiple Trump-era abortion restrictions, Biden ultimately marshaled the support of Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights advocacy groups, who put the weight of their campaign operation behind him in his fight against Trump in 2020.

Undoing Trump-era abortion restrictions

Since taking office, Biden has taken steps toward providing federal funding for abortions for low-income people. Like other Democratic Presidents before him, Biden announced plans soon after taking office to reverse the Mexico City Policy, or what critics describe as the "Global Gag Rule." It forbids international aid groups who receive U.S. funding from providing or referring patients for abortion.

The administration is in the process of undoing a similar policy for domestic family planning groups who received funding through the Title X program. New rules implemented under President Trump prompted hundreds of providers to leave that program, including Planned Parenthood.

Abortion rights groups are asking the administration to take additional steps, including reversing the Helms Amendment, which also restricts the use of U.S. dollars in paying for abortions abroad.

State and federal battles continue

At the same time, Republican state lawmakers have continued a nationwide push to limit abortion, introducing hundreds of restrictions this year alone. Anti-abortion rights groups hope one of those laws will invite the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.

The Supreme Court recently agreed to consider a Mississippi law that bans most abortions at 15 weeks, a case which could open the door to deeply eroding Roe and related precedents guaranteeing abortion rights.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.