Democratic Lawmakers Tell Biden: Strike Conscience Protections on Abortion Funding from Budget

Pro-abortion lawmakers push for complete removal of abortion restrictions in upcoming fiscal 2022 budget.

President Joe Biden takes notes during a virtual call in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Thursday
President Joe Biden takes notes during a virtual call in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Thursday (photo: Oliver Contreras/Pool / Getty Images)

Democratic members of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus wrote to the White House this week asking President Joe Biden to eliminate longstanding conscience-based restrictions on federal abortion funding from his upcoming budget for fiscal year 2022. In their letter, they demanded unprecedented funding of abortion saying “simply reverting to where things were in 2016 is not enough. We must ensure that all people — both at home and abroad — truly have sexual and reproductive autonomy.” 

The letter was led by Pro-Choice Caucus chairwomen Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and signed by Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., as well as Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “We are respectfully requesting that you eliminate the Hyde Amendment, the Weldon Amendment, the Helms Amendment, and other similar abortion coverage restrictions from your Fiscal Year 2022 budget,” they wrote. “The Hyde Amendment’s restrictions on coverage have a far-reaching impact on people enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare; federal employees and their dependents; Peace Corps Volunteers; Indigenous people; women in federal prisons and immigration detention centers; and residents of the District of Columbia.”

The 1976 Hyde Amendment is an appropriations rider that has prohibited taxpayer funding of abortion in health-care funding for nearly half a century with bipartisan support. A January Marist poll found that 58% of Americans do not want taxpayer funding to go to abortions. In the past, Biden has recognized the conscience concerns of those opposed to taxpayer funding of abortion. In a 1994 statement he said, “those of us who are opposed to abortions should not be compelled to pay for them.” However, Biden changed his position on the issue in the summer of 2019 on the campaign trail. “I can’t justify leaving millions of women without access to the care they need and their ability to exercise their constitutionally protected right,” he said. “If I believe health care is a right as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s ZIP code.”

The letter went on to take aim at another longstanding conscience protection law. “The Weldon Amendment has been attached to Hyde and used to interfere with policies that expand abortion coverage and access,” the lawmakers continued. “Opponents of abortion access, including the Trump Administration, have invoked the Weldon Amendment in attempts to block policies to expand abortion care and coverage by threatening policymakers with the loss of critical federal health dollars.”

The Weldon Amendment is an annual appropriations rider that prevents federal, state and local governments receiving federal funds from discriminating against health-care entities that decline to “provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.” In December, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) applauded The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights for taking corrective action against California because it violated the Weldon amendment in requiring state health plans to fund elective abortions. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas called it “an abhorrent violation of conscience rights to force someone to perform, pay for, or otherwise participate in an abortion against their beliefs” in their statement on the matter.

Another abortion restriction the letter highlighted was the Helms amendment, which stipulates that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” It was enacted as a permanent amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1973 shortly after abortion was legalized in the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. “Under the Helms Amendment, U.S. foreign assistance support for anything related to abortion remains restricted, denying people around the world the life-saving care that they want and need,” the lawmakers wrote.

Taxpayer-funded abortion overseas is wildly unpopular. A January Marist poll found that 77% of Americans oppose taxpayer funded abortion overseas, including 64% of those who identify as “pro-choice.” Biden has not recently commented on the Helms Amendment, but has supported it in the past during his time in the Senate. He also sponsored an amendment in 1981 that prohibited the use of foreign-aid funding in biomedical research involving abortion.

While these pro-abortion lawmakers are demanding expanded abortion funding from the Biden administration, pro-life lawmakers in the House and Senate recently pledged “unified opposition to congressional Democrats’ efforts to repeal the Hyde Amendment and other current-law, pro-life appropriations provisions” and to “vote against the advancement of any legislation that would eliminate or weaken the Hyde Amendment or any other current-law pro-life protections, or otherwise undermine existing federal pro-life policy.”