How We Got Here
President Joe Biden is the first U.S. president to exclude the Hyde Amendment from his budget proposal since the amendment’s inception in 1976. Named after republican congressman Henry Hyde, the policy was created in response to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade.
On the Hyde Amendment, Henry Hyde said, “I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the … Medicaid bill.” The policy prohibits federally funded programs like Medicaid from financing abortions.
In 1994, policymakers re-interpreted the amendment to include exceptions for rape, incest and medical emergencies. The Hyde Amendment is particularly harmful to low-income and immigrant women who rely on Medicaid for health insurance. Without coverage, most are forced to pay out-of-pocket costs to access abortion. According to Planned Parenthood, Medicaid covers 1 in 5 women of reproductive age, and due to structural inequalities, people of color disproportionately make up the majority of Medicaid enrollees.
Hyde Today and its Dangerous Siblings, Helms and Weldon
Biden- a lifelong Catholic - has a tumultuous relationship with abortion rights and previously supported the Hyde Amendment. Excluding the Hyde Amendment from his 2021 budget proposal fulfills a promise he made on the campaign trail. Many within the reproductive rights community applauded Biden on his decision, but our work is far from over. Hyde has two lesser known but equally divisive siblings called the Helms and Weldon Amendments.
Background on Helms, the Prohibitor of Foreign Assistance for Abortions
The Helms Amendment was attached to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1973, and prohibits foreign assistance funds from funding abortion services. Evidence from the Guttmacher Institute suggests that repealing the Helms Amendment could prevent 19 million unsafe abortion procedures, save 17,000 lives, and prevent 21 million women from experiencing complications requiring medical treatment.
Last month, 140 organizations, including the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International US, and the Global Justice Center released a statement calling for the repeal of the Helms amendment. The letter says, “The US is the largest funder of global health, including family planning, and is the only donor nation to single out abortion in this way… Many US abortion restrictions, including the Helms amendment, have consistently been in place for decades, causing generations’ worth of harm – and they will continue to do so if action is not taken. This is a matter of utmost urgency as bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom are increasingly under siege.”
The NWHN believes that Helms Amendment is a politically motivated policy that unfairly targets abortion care and urges congress to repeal the Helms Amendment from good by passing the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act. The NWHN applauds the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee (SFOPS) for excluding the Helms Amendment from their Fiscal Year 2022 spending bill on June 28th, 2021, but anti-abortion lawmakers may still attempt to sabotage this progress in the Appropriations Committee. The effort to repeal the Helms Amendment from the Foreign Assistance Act of 1973 was headed by Ipas and Representative Barbara Lee, Chairwoman of the SFOPS Subcommittee and co-lead of the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act. With Hyde gone, and Helms on its way out- Weldon becomes the last surviving anti-abortion policy at the federal level.
Background on Weldon, the Weapon of the Religious Right
The Weldon Amendment is much younger than the Hyde and Helms Amendments, but not any less dangerous to reproductive rights. In 2005, the Weldon Amendment started as a rider attached to the annual Labor-HHS bill. The plain text of this policy prohibits “discrimination against health care entities” but has been interpreted by lawmakers as a religious freedom protection that allows health care workers to deny care to patients based on personal beliefs.
The Trump Administration weaponized the Weldon Amendment against states that wished to expand abortion rights. For example, when California initiated a requirement that health plans must include abortion coverage, the Trump Administration withheld $200 million in federal Medicaid funds - citing the Weldon Amendment. The Trump Administration also used the Weldon Amendment as grounds to establish a new department in HHS called the Conscious and Religious Freedom Division. According to the National Women’s Law Center, Trump attempted to expand the Weldon Amendment beyond its original purpose and under his interpretation, “a rape survivor could be denied emergency birth control; a transgender person could be denied gender affirming care; or a pregnant person could be denied information and counseling on their pregnancy options.” The implications of the Weldon Amendment could be devastating as the amendment interferes with a patient's ability to get the care they need.
The NWHN’s Position, and What You Can Do To Help
The NWHN applauds President Biden for excluding the Hyde Amendment from his budget proposal. Abortion rights cannot not advance when low-income women, women of color and immigrant women are being denied abortion access. But, abortion rights will continue to be threatened so long as the Helms and Weldon Amendments are in place.
The following organizations are raising awareness about the Helms and Weldon Amendments:
- The National Women’s Law Center
- Population Connection Action Fund
- The Center for Reproductive Rights
- International Women’s Health Coalition
To help end federal anti-abortion policies like the Hyde, Helms and Weldon Amendments you can donate to the NWHN or raise awareness by posting on social media.