Hyde Amendment

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The Hyde Amendment, named after its sponsor Congressman Henry Hyde, is a provision added annually to the Appropriations Acts which forbids the use of federal monies to pay for abortion except for narrow exceptions.

Opposition

It went into effect in 1976. Abortion advocates had been raising the alarm from the moment the Hyde Amendment was up for vote. They painted a ghastly picture of coathanger-impaled women dying in large numbers as poor women were driven to desperation by lack of "access."

In order to have any chance of restoring federal funding for elective abortions, the abortion lobby would need a tragedy they could blame on Hyde. On October 3, 1977, the abortion lobby got what they'd been waiting for: a dead woman they could use as leverage in the fight to once again force taxpayers to fund elective abortions.

The Centers for Disease Control investigated the death, verified that it was indeed an illegal abortion death, and announced the death amid fanfare and a call to restore federal funding for elective abortions. They were joined by abortion advocacy organizations.

One voice stood out from the crowd: Ellen Frankfort, author of Rosie: the investigation of a wrongful death. Frankfort was disgusted with the bulk of the prochoice movement, who seemed content to make note of the death and then milk it for political gain. She was particularly disgusted with the response of public health officials, who made no effort to close down the illegal abortion practice where Rosie had undergone her fatal abortion.

Frankfort took it upon herself to orchestrate a sting, with local law enforcement. She coordinated a dramatic raid that put the lay abortionist out of business.

Another argument commonly made by opponents of the amendment is that abortion, which is technically legal in many forms, is unfairly singled out. They say other controversial, legal activities do not receive such amendments. Abortion, however, is a particularly contentious issue, and many Americans believe that allowing tax dollars to directly or indirectly support abortions would be infringement on their religious and moral beliefs. The Hyde Amendment is often seen as a compromise between pro-life and pro-choice positions, but many who hold pro-life beliefs find that notion absurd since the amendment does not affect the legality of abortion.

Documented Effects

There was indeed a small spike in reported deaths of mothers during illegal abortions after the Hyde Amendment (from 2 in 1976 to 4 in 1977 to 7 in 1978). But there was likewise a spike in reported legal abortion deaths as well -- a far larger spike, from 11 in 1976 to 17 in 1977.

Lest prochoicers attribute this jump to women having later abortions because they need time to get funds, we'll note that reported legal abortion deaths fall to 9 in 1978, then leap to 22 in 1979.

And although the Hyde Amendment remained in effect, reported illegal abortion deaths fell to 0 in 1979, and remained at 0, 1, 0r 2 per year. Since this is fewer than the 19 in 1979, 6 in 1974, and 4 in 1975, when federal funds were available for elective abortions, it's hard to say that the Hyde Amendment was causing more illegal abortion deaths.

In fact, the CDC's own study, "The Effect of Restricting Public Funds for Legal Abortion," found "no evidence of a statistically significant increase in the number of complications from illegal abortions." In fact, they found that while there was no change in the illegal abortion complications, there was a significant decrease in publicly funded hospitalizations for legal abortion complications in cities where funding was restricted, compared to cities in areas where state or local government picked up the tab for elective abortions.

In other words, cutting funds for elective abortions actually had a measurable positive impact, reducing abortion complication rates for Medicaid-eligible women.

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