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Democrats negotiating over Biden's agenda face another obstacle: Federal funding for abortions

Jayapal on the path forward for Democrats' $3.5 trillion bill
Jayapal on the path forward for Democrats' $3... 05:40

The cost of the bill containing President Biden's social safety net agenda is not the only flashpoint in the negotiations between moderate and progressive Democrats: a disagreement has emerged over whether a ban on federal funding for abortions — shorthanded in Congress as the Hyde Amendment — should be included in the bill.

Senator Joe Manchin, whose yes vote is crucial to the passage of the bill, called the Build Back Better Act, says he won't support the legislation without the Hyde Amendment, and some progressive Democrats say they won't vote for the bill if the amendment is in it.

The ban, named for abortion rights opponent GOP Representative Henry Hyde, first passed in 1976, prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. It is added to legislation that addresses federal spending for women's health, mostly to provisions involving Medicaid. 

In the Build Back Better Act, debate over the Hyde Amendment's inclusion applies to the expansion of health care coverage, similar to Medicaid, in the 12 states that did not opt to expand Medicaid after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Most Democratic lawmakers want to eliminate the Hyde Amendment in the Build Back Better Act, so its expansion of health care coverage for poorer Americans omits it. 

Last week, Manchin, who identifies himself as "pro-life," told the National Review that the social safety net bill is "dead on arrival" in the Senate without the provision. But Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, whose threats succeeded in stopping the infrastructure bill from receiving a House vote last week, told CNN Sunday she won't vote for a bill that has the Hyde Amendment in it. Jayapal claimed the Hyde Amendment is something the "majority of the country does not support." 

A January poll by Marist and the Knights of Columbus found 58% of Americans say they oppose taxpayer funding of abortion, while 38% support it, although there is not extensive polling on the Hyde Amendment. 

Mr. Biden, a Catholic, used to support the Hyde Amendment, but he denounced it in June 2019 during his presidential campaign. His change of heart followed criticism from other Democrats and primary competitors. Then-candidate Biden said he had supported the amendment before because he didn't believe women's rights were under attack, but "circumstances have changed."

There's been more interest in abortion law in recent months; in part, that's because in December, the Supreme Court, which now has a 6-3 conservative majority, will be hearing the most significant challenge to abortion rights in 30 years, the bid by Mississippi to enforce a law banning abortions after 15 weeks. In May, Mississippi officials asked the high court to overrule Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey outright, arguing they are "egregiously wrong" and have "proven hopelessly unworkable."

A new law in Texas has also sparked controversy, banning abortions after roughly six weeks and allowing citizens to sue anyone they believe helped in the process of an illegal abortion. The Justice Department is seeking an emergency order to block the Texas law. 

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