Five Facts You Should Know About the Hyde Amendment

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Henry Hyde

Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde in May 1981. (AP Photo/File)

The Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976 and affirmed by the Supreme Court in 1980, prohibits federal funds from being used for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or endangerment to the life of the mother. The law effectively leaves the decision of funding abortion to the states, and most states choose not to. Here are five facts you should know about the Hyde Amendment:

1. The law’s impact is limited almost entirely to poor women. The late Henry Hyde (R-IL), the conservative congressman who first proposed the amendment, acknowledged this reality during a Medicaid funding debate in 1977, when he told his colleagues:

“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.”

2. About 42 percent of women who have abortions live below the poverty line. The unintended pregnancy rate among poor women is five times the rates for higher-income women, as is the abortion rate. One reported reason for the discrepancy is poor women’s limited access to contraception.

3. By restricting Medicaid funding for abortion, one in four low-income women who would like to obtain abortions are instead forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. Since the Hyde Amendment was enacted more than 35 years ago, over one million women have been unable to afford abortions.

4. Since the Hyde Amendment passed, only four states have voluntarily decided to use their funds to cover abortion. Another 13 states are required to do so by court order, just as they would other forms of health care. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia basically follow the Hyde Amendment as the congressman intended, with some small variations. One state, South Dakota, only pays for abortion when a woman’s life is in danger, but not in cases of rape and incest — an apparent violation of federal law.

5. In order to assuage opponents of abortion in his own party, President Obama signed an executive order stating that The Affordable Care Act  — which could expand Medicaid to cover as many 21.3 million additional low-income Americans by 2022 — would maintain current Hyde Amendment restrictions.

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