Abortion Politics Complicate Senate’s Push to Boost Health Funds

  • Key senator wants to end ban on federal funds for abortion
  • Democrats face uphill battle to ending Hyde amendment

Senate Democratic leaders are making the case to end the decades-old restriction on federal funding for abortions, setting up a battle over health agency funding this year.

Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who heads the Senate panel responsible for the bulk of federal health spending, said ending the funding restriction, called the Hyde amendment, would be a “critical step” toward opening up abortion services for people of color and those unable to pay for health services on their own.

“That’s an area of strong disagreement among some members of this committee, but for too long, Hyde has made abortion accessible only to those with means — while women of color, and women who are paid low incomes, struggle to get care,” she said Wednesday.

The Hyde amendment bars federal funds for abortions except in the case of rape or incest or to save the life of the woman. Murray, when asked if she’ll introduce a spending bill for the Department of Health and Human Services that omits it, said she needs to consult with members of her appropriations subcommittee.

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg
Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education, speaks during a hearing on June 9, 2021.

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Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, has said she will keep the Hyde amendment out of the her chamber’s HHS spending plan in fiscal 2022.

Roy Blunt (Mo.), the top Republican on the Senate health appropriations panel, said there aren’t enough votes to clear spending legislation without the Hyde language. Republicans widely support Hyde and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who sits on Murray’s subcommittee, has been a longtime supporter of the restriction.

Democrats hold only 50 seats in the Senate, meaning they need at least 10 Republicans and all their members to pass a spending bill.

On other matters, Blunt and Murray show a willingness to agree that HHS should get a funding increase in fiscal 2022. Both say they support the White House’s proposal to add more money for the nation’s biomedical research agencies and to create a division within HHS to spur development of innovative research.

President Joe Biden’s fiscal 2022 federal budget proposal didn’t include the Hyde amendment, signaling that the White House wants to end it.

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Many Democrats see this Congress as their opportunity to expand abortion access and have warned that states with Republican-controlled legislatures are increasingly seeking to restrict it.

“Right now in states across this country, Roe v. Wade is under attack and millions of women are at risk of losing the freedom to make their own personal health decisions,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) told reporters Tuesday, referring to the the landmark Supreme Court ruling that guaranteed Americans access to abortion services.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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