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Democrats are nearing defeat on their effort to eliminate longstanding amendments that limit federal funds for abortion in the next government funding package—even after liberals spent years trying to end those restrictions.
Democratic leaders vowed to end language restricting funding for abortion and needle aid when they took control of the House, Senate, and White House in 2021. But senators say they will have to give up on that promise due to the reality of their slim majority in the Senate and rushing to find agreement on a 12-bill appropriations package ahead of the next funding deadline on March 11.
“It’s a 50-50 Senate: if you want to change riders, get 60 people,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Two abortion restrictions — the so-called Hyde and Weldon amendments — have been added to funding bills for the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services for several decades. The Hyde amendment bars federal funds for abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman. The Weldon amendment bars funding for state and local governments if those entities refuse to work with health insurance plans or professionals that refuse to provide, pay for, cover, or refer abortions.
Joe Biden pledged to scrap the Hyde amendment while campaigning for president. Failing to fulfill those promises could hurt Democrats’ chances with voters.
Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the top Republican on the panel responsible for nearly all federal health funds, said he expects the omnibus to retain all the “legacy riders,” or policy provisions that get attached to a must-pass measure to fund the government. He said Democrats simply don’t have the votes to try to repeal them, despite their best efforts to do so.
“It would be a huge mistake of them with a 50-50 Senate to think they could add new things or take away things that have been there for at least 10 years,” Blunt said.
Democratic aides caution that negotiations on the omnibus are ongoing, and lawmakers haven’t worked out which riders will be attached.
“Negotiators working on the omnibus have not reached any final agreement on policy provisions or programmatic funding levels,” said Evan Hollander, spokesman for Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who leads the House Appropriations Committee.
But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) largely closed the door on Democrats’ plans to end Hyde last year when he announced he’ll support the existing policy “in every way possible.”
These funding bills also commonly contain a rider prohibiting federal funds from going to buy syringes for needle exchanges, something the Biden administration has proposed funding via grants approved under last year’s American Rescue Plan (Public Law 117-2).
Those grants have come under fire largely from Republicans, who said they could be used to distribute free pipes for drug users. HHS officials have said they won’t be used to buy pipes but can be used for syringe exchanges.
Group that want lawmakers to overturn Hyde say Democrats shouldn’t give up on the abortion issue.
“With abortion care under attack nationwide, this is an all-hands-on-deck moment for all of us, including elected officials in Congress, to push back against restrictions and coverage bans like the Hyde Amendment,” Destiny Lopez, co-president of All* Above All, an abortion justice advocacy group, said in a statement.
The issue is significant for Medicaid recipients. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia follow the federal standard and only provide funding for abortions in the case of rape or incest or to save the life of the woman— in addition to South Dakota, which has more restrictive standards, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The other states have less restrictive standards for funding abortions through Medicaid.
To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org