WASHINGTON (BP) – Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore urged leaders in a Democratic-controlled Congress Tuesday (Feb. 2) to continue to include the Hyde Amendment and other long-standing, pro-life protections in yearly spending bills.
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), asked in a letter to both parties’ leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives to approve what are known as pro-life “riders” attached each year to appropriations measures. They not only save the lives of unborn children, he wrote, but many “protect the consciences of millions of Americans and maintain national unity over a sensitive issue.”
It appears the Hyde Amendment in particular will face a stiff test to survive this year, however. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi reportedly said last year the amendment will not be maintained in the 2021 appropriations process though it has been approved every year since 1976. New President Joe Biden, who supported the Hyde Amendment during his 36 years in the Senate, announced his opposition to the measure while running for the Democratic nomination in 2019.
The amendment prohibits federal funds in the Medicaid program from paying for abortions. While it has long been backed by a significant percentage of pro-choice advocates, Democratic opposition to Hyde has grown in recent years. The ban is estimated to have saved the lives of more than two million unborn children in the last 45 years.
Moore told the congressional leaders the issues that prompted the Hyde Amendment three years after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion remain.
“Those of us who object to [abortion] do so because of our deeply help religious and moral beliefs about the sanctity of every human life,” Moore wrote. “We are all made in the image of God [and] endowed with immeasurable worth from conception until natural death. And we strongly object to tax dollars being used for what we believe to be a great moral wrong.”
In addition, the Hyde Amendment “represents our ability as a nation of disparate views to support the fundamental principle of pluralism,” he said.
A recent public opinion survey found 58 percent of Americans “oppose” or “strongly oppose” taxpayer funding of abortion in this country. The survey, released Jan. 27 by Marist Poll and commissioned by The Knights of Columbus, also showed opposition by 31 percent of Democrats and 34 percent of those who identified themselves as pro-choice.
In asking for congressional protection of Hyde and other pro-life riders, Moore wrote, “Protecting them would be an act of courageous leadership that recognizes our great democratic republic experiment is strongest when we respect one another in the midst of our disagreements. Such an act of across-the-aisle courage is desperately needed.”
The ERLC – which continues to work for a comprehensive ban on federal funding of abortions – included the protection of pro-life riders in spending legislation as one of its priorities in its 2021 Public Policy Agenda released Jan. 22.
In addition to Hyde, other pro-life riders Moore urged Congress to continue to support were the:
- Weldon Amendment, which has barred since 2004 funding for government programs that discriminate against health-care individuals or institutions that object to abortion.
- Helms Amendment, a rider first approved in 1973 that prohibits foreign aid funds from being used for abortion as a method of family planning.
- Kemp-Kasten Amendment, a 1985 measure that bans family planning money from going to any organization that is involved in a program of forced abortion or sterilization.
- Dornan Amendment, a rider first approved in 1988 that has barred in most of the years since federal funds, as well as congressionally approved local ones, from paying for elective abortions in the District of Columbia.
- Siljander Amendment, which has prohibited foreign assistance funds from covering the cost of lobbying for or against abortion since 1981.
Medicaid funded about 300,000 abortions in the year before the late Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., gained adoption of his amendment for the first time in 1976. The measure has saved the lives of more than 2.4 million unborn children, according to an estimate in July 2020 by Michael New, associate scholar of the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute. The amendment, which became the general label for such bans on federal health programs, includes exceptions for a threat to the mother’s life, rape and incest.
Pelosi and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Ct., chair of the House subcommittee that oversees health programs, told some members in July they would not add the Hyde Amendment to spending bills next year, the Los Angeles Times reported in late August.
Democrats who oppose Hyde describe it as a justice issue for low-income and minority women.
In addition to Pelosi, Moore’s letter went to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.