The Hyde Amendment is one of America’s most divisive legislations, a law that prevents the use of federal funds for abortion services, except in the cases of rape and incest.
What this means is that women whose healthcare is primarily federally-funded – veterans and military personnel, for example, women who are employed by the federal government, women in detention centres and prison, and Native American women – cannot receive abortions on their subsidised healthcare. In a country where almost half of abortions impact women living below the poverty line, critics of the Hyde Amendment point out that this legislation adversely affects poor women. In other words, those who might need federal funding the most.
In the current mad-scramble to secure the Democratic nomination for the 2020 election, the Hyde Amendment has become a major talking point, not the least in light of the recent abortion bans sweeping across several states in the US. Joe Biden, for example, supports the Hyde Amendment, and has done so for several years.
Elizabeth Warren, however, does not.
The presidential hopeful summed up her stance on abortion in new comments directed at Biden this week. For Warren, access to safe, affordable healthcare – including terminations – is a fundamental right for all women.
“What this is about is health care, about reproductive freedom, about economic freedom and economic opportunity for all women,” Warren said at a town hall on 5 June. “This is not about politics.”
She continued: “Understand this, women of means will still have access to abortions. Who won’t will be poor women. It will be working women and women who can’t afford to take off three days from work, and very young women. It will be women who have been raped and women who have been molested by someone in their own family. We do not pass laws that take away that freedom from the women who are most vulnerable.”
In light of the recent Heartbeat Bill abortion bans passing in states including Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Iowa and Ohio, the Hyde Amendment has become a major talking point in US Politics. Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Warren have emerged as the most vocal opponents to the legislation, promising that if they are elected they will repeal the Hyde Amendment immediately.
Biden, however, has remained firm. The politician has conceded that if the forthcoming abortion bans become a reality, he would be “open to repealing Hyde”, according to his spokesperson. But until then, Biden is against federal funding of abortion.
Biden’s history on the subject of abortion is complicated. He is Catholic and has spoken in the past about being “personally opposed to abortion”. As a politician, he has often voted for legislation that would restrict abortion rights. But he is also on the record as a supporter of Roe v. Wade, noting – through his spokesperson – that he “firmly believes that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land and should not be overturned.”
Regardless, Biden’s stance on Hyde is in opposition to that of his party. By supporting Hyde, Biden’s critics say, the politician supports the continuation of an unequal system that hurts lower-income women the most.
“Repealing the Hyde Amendment is critical so that low-income women in particular can have access to the reproductive care they need and deserve,” Kirsten Gillibrand has said. “Reproductive rights are human rights, period. They should be non-negotiable for all Democrats.”