Article Jan 19, 2016

The next frontier: Taxpayer-funded abortion on demand?

Every year since 1976, a small provision is added to the federal budget bill; and year after year, this little-known amendment is passed with little fanfare or controversy. 

Several weeks ago, however, Hillary Clinton mentioned this amendment during a speech, calling for its complete abolishment. 

Although this announcement didn’t make major waves in the media, the fulfillment of her vision would leave a devastating wake for the rights of millions of Americans – both born and unborn.

First sponsored in 1976 by Congressman Henry Hyde, the Hyde Amendment is a provision added to every federal budget bill. It prohibits federal Medicaid dollars from directly funding abortions, except in the instance of rape, incest, or the health of the mother.

Opponents of the Hyde Amendment claim that it unfairly targets low-income women as they are unable to utilize Medicaid funds to pay for abortions. Many pro-abortion advocates claim that these restrictions impede these women’s right to an abortion as established in Roe v. Wade.

Yet the Supreme Court has said otherwise. In a 1980 case challenging the constitutionality of the Hyde Amendment, the Court ruled that a woman’s right to choose to abort her baby does not carry with it entitlement to have that abortion paid for with taxpayer dollars. The Court held in Harris v. McRae:

The funding restrictions of the Hyde Amendment do not impinge on the "liberty" protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment held in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 168, to include the freedom of a woman to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy. […]

Regardless of whether the freedom of a woman to choose to terminate her pregnancy for health reasons lies at the core or the periphery of the due process liberty recognized in Wade, supra, it does not follow that a woman's freedom of choice carries with it a constitutional entitlement to the financial resources to avail herself of the full range of protected choices. 

And just a year before Harris v. McRae was decided, the Court ruled in Maher v. Roe that Roe v. Wade does not establish a woman’s right to a free abortion. Maher took up the question of whether the Constitution requires a state Medicaid program to pay for abortions when it covers childbirth costs for women. The Court held:

Roe did not declare an unqualified "constitutional right to an abortion," as the District Court seemed to think. Rather, the right protects the woman from unduly burdensome interference with her freedom to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy. It implies no limitation on the authority of a State to make a value judgment favoring childbirth over abortion, and to implement that judgment by the allocation of public funds.

Harris and Maher, along with a line of cases that followed, made clear that taxpayer funding of abortion (i.e. the abandonment of the Hyde Amendment) is a huge leap from Roe v. Wade that the State is not obligated to take.  

Roe said that the government cannot impede a woman’s choice to abort her child by, for example, criminalizing abortion. But Roe did not establish a positive right to an abortion, meaning the government would then have to finance that abortion for any woman that chooses to have one at any point in her pregnancy.

This is a critical distinction.

Post-Roe abortion cases make it very clear that federal and state governments may decide to not allow government officials, buildings, or funds be used in abortions. Why? Because governments have traditionally supported public policies that incentivize and encourage childbirth. The future of society depends on future generations.

But it goes even deeper than this. Our nation was founded upon the fundamental idea that governments exist to protect God-given rights, chief among them the right to life, no matter what your age, social class, religion, etc.

Are we as a society really ready and willing to say that somehow lives born into difficult circumstances are so invaluable that we are willing to use federal tax dollars to incentivize the termination of these lives? Such a step would abandon all reverence for life enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and more than two centuries of public policy.

Beyond this, it’s difficult to even begin grasping the numerous constitutional liberties implicated if our taxpayer dollars funded abortions. After all, there’s a big difference between your hard-earned dollars paying for political spending you voted against in the last election and your money funding the elimination of thousands of vulnerable human lives each year. This isn’t political; this is a matter of conscience and conviction relating to human dignity.

As Congressman Henry Hyde said during a House floor debate about abortion, “[This] is a debate about our understanding of human dignity, what it means to be a member of the human family, even though tiny, powerless and unwanted.”

The end of the Hyde Amendment would mean federally funded abortion on demand.

The move to abolish the Hyde Amendment is yet another signal that abortion advocates are moving away from their mantra of “safe, legal, and rare,” to something more akin to abortion “any time, for any reason, at no cost.” 

But the problem with that refrain is that it is false advertising. Abortion always has a cost. It costs a mother her child, her child its life, and society the basic understanding of what it means to be human.