Repeal of abortion funding ban won’t be part of spending debate, sponsor says

Longstanding Hyde amendment unlikely to be addressed on House floor this week

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., speaks with reporters as she leaves the House Democrats’ caucus meeting in the Capitol on June 4, 2019. Jayapal co-sponsored a proposal to repeal the Hyde amendment. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

An amendment to repeal a 42-year-old prohibition on using federal public health funds for abortions won’t be part of the debate on a nearly $1 trillion appropriations bill covering the Department of Health and Human Services and several other agencies.

That was the view Monday night of Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington, who co-sponsored a proposal to repeal the Hyde amendment, which the appropriations package headed to the House floor this week would continue. The language is named for its author, the late Illinois Republican Rep. Henry J. Hyde.

[Hyde amendment, other abortion riders in the spending limelight]

“We think it may be ruled out of order because it’s written in a very broad way … that’s what I was hearing today,” Jayapal said Monday evening. “Let’s see what Rules does.”

The amendment, from Jayapal and Democrats Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts, Barbara Lee of California, Diana DeGette of Colorado and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, would not just remove the Hyde amendment from the underlying bill. It would also create a new requirement for federal health care programs, including Medicaid, to pay for abortion services, while blocking any state or local jurisdiction from preventing private insurers from covering abortions.

That legislative requirement would technically be a violation of House rules prohibiting authorizing language on amendments to appropriations bills. 

Jayapal said advocates of repealing the abortion amendment have “more work” to do to build support. They are seeking a vote on Lee’s standalone bill to codify the provisions their appropriations amendment would impose.

“Look, I think that we all understand that the Hyde amendment is a … politically difficult issue and we need to do a little bit more work to really make sure that everybody understands that without the ability to control choices for our own bodies, it is an economic justice issue,” Jayapal said.

The House Rules Committee was reviewing a list of some 500 amendments to the four bills moving as one package. House leaders agreed to drop a fifth bill, the Legislative Branch measure, because of a dispute over whether a decade-old pay freeze for House members should be revisited.

Rules Committee members will make a final decision on whether the abortion language is up for debate likely on Tuesday. 

The amendment from Jayapal, Pressley and others came up because the Democratic House majority chose to keep intact the Hyde language, which specifically blocks federal funding for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the woman’s life.

Despite vociferous opposition to Hyde from the left wing of the Democratic Party, the funding limitation has long been considered a bipartisan compromise. For instance, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. had long supported the Hyde amendment. But Biden, who is leading many of the early Democratic presidential primary polls, reversed his position late last week under pressure.

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