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A year ago, I did not have the following items on my 2021 Bingo Card: Kate Winslet’s perfect Eastern Pennsylvania accent; Lakers out in the first round of the playoffs; President Joe Biden moves to undo Hyde Amendment.
But at the end of last month, Biden released his budget plan, and, sure enough, there was a proposal in there to end the Hyde Amendment, a 44-year-old law that bars federal funds (like Medicaid) from paying for abortion care, with rare exceptions. We’re still a long way from having Hyde tossed onto—to misappropriate a Mike Pence-ism, which is itself a reappropriated Reaganism, which in turn was a misquoted description of medieval Rome—the ash heap of history, but color me surprised that we’ve even arrived here, with President Biden taking a progressive stance on an issue that had long seemed unwinnable to many pro-choice advocates.
Of course, none of this is settled yet. Presidents’ budgets are little more than litanies of things a president wants voters to think he wants, with the understanding that it’s Congress, and not the president, that ultimately has the power of the purse. Biden was a staunch proponent of the Hyde Amendment until 2019, when he found himself the odd candidate out in a crowded field of Democratic presidential hopefuls and changed his tune. But, while I’m heartened by the fact that Biden stuck to a campaign promise to oppose Hyde if elected, I’m still feeling cynical that Hyde is on its way out: in negotiations like this, it always seems like the first people who get things negotiated away from them are marginalized women and children.
As we approach a summer of frustrating back-and-forth over issues like health care access, support for care infrastructure, and family leave, I worry that, once again, marginalized women and children will be left out in the cold—only to be told, once again, that the only way they’ll get anything they need is in 2022, by voting for a party all too eager to negotiate them away from the table.
In 2010, President Obama signed Executive Order 13535, a commitment to enforce the Hyde Amendment, much to the dismay of abortion rights groups that helped get him elected. The order was drafted and signed to appease a group of anti-abortion lawmakers in the House, in exchange for getting the Affordable Care Act passed.
The Hyde Amendment has always been a measure that dissolves into stupidity under any close examination. Pregnancy and parenthood are expensive. Why would a person poor enough to need government assistance in order to afford an abortion be in any position to afford the astronomical cost of raising a child, even with government aid? Why would the government be in the business of economically coercing low-income people who want to terminate their pregnancies into having more children?
Even the moralizing talking point of “if a woman on government assistance isn’t emotionally or financially prepared to have a child, having sex was a bad decision, and that’s her problem, not mine” held, then why has Congress never gotten in the business of deciding whether or not Medicaid should pay for the consequences of other risky behaviors, like jaywalking while drunk and getting hit by a car? Like developing chronic lung disease after working in an establishment that allows smoking, when you could have worked in a family restaurant instead?
You’d never see a congressman arguing that the only health conditions that the government should cover are freak accidents that weren’t the result of any questionable decisions, and you’d never see a congressman arguing that a person who receives money from the government in other ways—say, writing mortgage interest off their taxes—shouldn’t be allowed to use that money however they wish, except in the case of women on Medicaid who have consensual sex and become pregnant as a result.
And yet, “How about no money for abortions?” has been a bargaining chip in negotiating all manner of government compromises, many of which have nothing to do with reproduction or birth at all.
Which brings us to now. This week, West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a white male millionaire who has never been pregnant and will never need Medicaid, vowed to support the Hyde Amendment in “every way possible.” What do you mean, by that, Joe? Hyde Amendment-themed tribal tattoo? “Manchin: Run & Hyde”-themed campaign merch commemorating his overall uselessness as a politician? No—Manchin, as the perennial moderate polyp in the tubes of democracy, is implying that he may well use his position on the Senate Appropriations Committee to refuse to allow any budget to move to the floor of the Senate unless Hyde is preserved. Manchin says that this stance comes from the fact that he’s a “lifelong Catholic,” an ideology that never seems to come up when Manchin is arguing against taxing the rich more heavily in order to fund social services for the poor—a group that Jesus was a pretty big fan of.
But it’s not all bleak. This week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that, since negotiations with Republicans have failed, Democrats will go about passing President Biden’s infrastructure package alone, through budget reconciliation. Schumer was careful to point out that the American Families Plan component of the package—which would provide aid for the care economy, universal pre-k, and paid family leave—was an “essential component” to the package and would not be left behind. But Schumer needs Manchin in order to pass anything with the Democrats’ razor-thin majority, and now, once again, the fortunes of marginalized women and children are in the hands of one guy from a state which is home to 0.55 percent of the population of the U.S.
Will Democrats do what Democrats have done in the past and throw low-income families under the bus first? Or will Biden and Schumer’s newly grown spines be able to withstand the will of a useless institutionalist who has absolutely no skin in the game, and will not feel any negative impact of his legislative decisions no matter what happens?
It’s going to be a long, annoying summer.