Published August 13, 2021
Shortly after the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in Roe v. Wade, striking down every state law that had protected unborn children up to that point, most politicians of both parties agreed that protecting the conscience rights of pro-life Americans was of utmost importance.
Politicians in both parties. As unbelievable as it might seem today, when Roe was handed down, a significant contingent of Democratic congressmen rallied behind Republican Henry Hyde of Illinois and his now-famous amendment, which prevented the use of federal money to fund most abortion procedures for Medicaid recipients.
Legal abortion might be the law of the land, the thinking went, but basic respect for conscience demanded protections for Americans who had moral or religious disagreements about abortion. They should not be made complicit in funding abortions through their taxes.
President Joe Biden himself was a longtime supporter of the Hyde amendment, until that supposedly principled position began to conflict with the priorities of his party upon his most recent run for president. After holding up his finger in the wind for quite some time, Biden landed on the side of the abortion-rights advocates at a DNC fundraiser in June 2019:
If this sounds like a jumbled mess of a justification for rejecting a position he had publicly embraced for several decades, perhaps that’s because Biden stumbled into this change of heart as the result of aggressive lobbying from former actress and current abortion activist Alyssa Milano.
Biden’s sudden and transparently political conversion on Hyde mirrored the broader shift within his party. More to the point, his reversal was a symptom of that shift. Running for president as a would-be moderate, Biden in short order became the very latest banner-waver to join his party’s steady march toward abortion radicalism.
The Democratic platform, after all, had been demanding the abolition of the Hyde amendment since 2016. Had Biden stood firm on Hyde, he not only would’ve opposed his party, but he would’ve been the only one out of all 20 presidential hopefuls to support Hyde.
It’s easy to see why a moral coward would rapidly find a way to justify a flip-flop.
Federally funded abortion is now a primary stated goal of the Democratic Party and nearly all its politicians. In the House, not a single Democrat remains who is willing to demand the addition of Hyde protections before voting for a spending bill. In the Senate, only Joe Manchin of West Virginia makes any noises about protecting pro-life taxpayers, and even he can be squishy on the subject when his other political priorities get in the way.
The stimulus qua COVID-relief bill enacted earlier this year contained no Hyde protections and funneled money directly to abortion providers, including by allowing Planned Parenthood affiliates to apply for small-business loans. The spending bill passed just recently by House Democrats on a strict party-line vote likewise omitted Hyde, the first time since the amendment’s creation that a spending bill has passed without the provision attached.
In May, Biden’s administration released a proposed budget that didn’t include the language of Hyde, the first time that a presidential budget failed to do so since the first year of Bill Clinton’s presidency. None of these Democrats seem troubled that a significant number of their own voters call themselves pro-life and oppose taxpayer-funded abortion.
This vigorous Democratic campaign is in striking contrast to the “choice” language that abortion-rights advocates use to cloak their position. Abortion, they say, is a matter of personal choice; those who wouldn’t choose abortion themselves must nonetheless defer to the individual preference of the woman involved in each case.
Setting aside the demerits of this argument — the ignored rights of the unborn child — this deference to personal choice ends as soon as the choice in question isn’t abortion. When a pregnant woman in distress chooses life for her child, her decision often is dismissed as having been caused by the lies of a crisis-pregnancy center.
When pro-life taxpayers wish not to be conscripted into funding the killing of the unborn, Democrats insist they no longer have any choice in the matter. The right to abortion, they say, is no right at all unless it’s “accessible,” by which they mean, “paid for by the government.”
By thoroughly embracing the abortion-rights movement’s anti-Hyde campaign, Democrats have once again revealed that their goal is neither to maximize personal freedom nor to respect individual rights. It is rather to glorify the choice of abortion, to craft a regime that permits and encourages unlimited abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy, fully funded by even the most morally opposed U.S. taxpayers.
Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.