- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 26, 2019

An increasing number of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are looking to upset the fragile truce on abortion that has reigned at the national level for decades, saying it’s time taxpayers start paying for them.

Since soon after abortion was established as a nationwide constitutional right by the Supreme Court in 1973, Congress agreed on a compromise, authored by the late Rep. Henry Hyde, which said taxpayers wouldn’t be asked to pay for something many of them thought was immoral.

But as GOP-led states move to challenge Roe v. Wade from the right, Democratic presidential candidates say they’re going to take the offensive from the left, canceling the Hyde compromise and asking taxpayers to cover abortion on the same terms as any other medical procedure.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden epitomizes the shift, having voted for years for bills that included the Hyde Amendment as part of his “middle-of-the-road” abortion position. But recently he told an ACLU activist at a South Carolina event that the compromise “can’t stay,” as other Democrats are also embracing the idea as well.

“I think that’s important progress,” said Georgeanne M. Usova, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Really for decades, we have seen abortion restrictions that are whittling away at access to abortion in states around the country.”

The ACLU is trying to press other candidates on where they stand — although a number of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls have been on board for years.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory A. Booker of New Jersey, along with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, have included a repeal of the Hyde Amendment as part of the abortion rights platforms they’ve been releasing amid liberal furor over new laws restricting the practice passed in states like Alabama, Georgia and Missouri. These heartbeat bills restrict abortion at the six-week mark — before many people know they’re pregnant.

Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who entered Congress in 2003 as a pro-life Democrat, also said this month that lawmakers need to get rid of the Hyde Amendment.

Rep. Eric Swalwell of California says going after the Hyde compromise is a way for Democrats to go beyond defending Roe v. Wade and press for new ground.

“Let’s aim so high to believe that we can repeal the Hyde Amendment,” Mr. Swalwell said. “That choice is every woman’s choice — not just a woman with health care’s choice.”

Democrats are trying to frame the debate as a question of access, saying that abortion is a right, but it can’t be exercised by people who can’t afford the price of terminating their pregnancies. Because of the Hyde Amendment, Medicaid won’t cover it, save for rare circumstances such as rape, incest or danger to the pregnant person’s health.

First adopted in 1976, the amendment is now a staple in annual funding bills Congress passes.

In 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton called for repealing it during the campaign and the party also advocated for repeal in its national platform for the first time ever.

But Kathleen Dolan, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said the issue is beginning to gain steam now.

“It brings a different piece of the conversation that we really haven’t had,” Ms. Dolan said. “The Hyde Amendment for so long has just become this afterthought.”

Polling suggests the public is more skittish about supporting taxpayer-funded abortions than they are about backing abortion rights in general.

For that reason, it doesn’t make sense politically for Democrats to be talking up a repeal of the Hyde Amendment, said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

“It’s clearly a new Democratic Party,” he said. “They have clearly become the party of Planned Parenthood.”

As recently as 2010, President Obama was forced to issue an executive order reaffirming the policy in order to win support for Obamacare from pro-life Democrats — though critics say there have still been end-runs around the restrictions.

But now, prominent liberals like Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, another 2020 contender who has called to repeal the amendment, say there’s no room in the party for people who are pro-life.

John Couvillon, a Louisiana-based pollster and analyst, said there may be a downside for some of the Democrats embracing the Hyde repeal stance: They’re missing out on a chance to have a breakout moment.

“What I think is unwise of all of the Democrats all jumping on the anti-Hyde Amendment bandwagon is that they’re really not differentiating themselves,” he said. “They’re basically just playing a game of ‘me too’ to the progressive base, which is not 100% of the Democratic electorate.”

For now, the repeal is only an aspiration — and it’s likely to remain so as long as there’s divided government.

House Democrats left the Hyde language in the 2020 health spending bill when it came out of committee this month.

“I think that really points out why we need very clear presidential leadership on this issue … it will require that,” said the ACLU’s Ms. Usova. “It’s encouraging to see candidates recognizing that coverage is part of making abortion rights a reality for everyone around the country.”

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