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A new push against Hyde amendment faces some high hurdles

By Garance Franke-Ruta
A day after President Obama announced that the landmark health-care bill would abide within the abortion restrictions of the Hyde amendment, the National Organization for Women responded Monday by saying that it would pursue a repeal of the more than 30-year-old amendment, which blocks federal funding of most abortions.

"We are going to kick off an emergency campaign to repeal the Hyde Amendment," said NOW President Terry O'Neill. "It has been used in this health-care debate as the basis for provisions that are designed to eliminate all insurance coverage of abortion care ... all private as well as public funding."

NOW expressed strong displeasure Sunday with Obama's statement, part of a compromise the president had cut with House abortion foes in order to pass the health-care overhaul bill. The final legislation preserved the Senate bill's command that women receiving federally subsidized health insurance must cut separate checks to pay for abortion insurance coverage. And Obama agreed to issue an executive order that reaffirmed and extended the Hyde Amendment restrictions.

"I know that [Obama] is with us in understanding the Hyde Amendment is a very unjust law, and I know that he believes that it should not be the law," O'Neill said. But others in the administration have told her, she said, that the Hyde amendment is settled law. "We say it's not."

The NOW president added, "The role of an advocacy organization is to set the vision, to say this is what is just, this is what is morally required."

But the fact that NOW allies such as Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would endorse a contrary position signals the weakness of the group's political position, especially given attention shifting to the 2010 midterm elections.

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, another organization favoring abortion rights, said Sunday that the Obama-Stupak deal was "a stark reminder of why we must repeal this unfair and insulting policy."

But the path forward would not be easy with Congress as it is presently constructed, she suggested. "Achieving this goal means increasing the number of lawmakers in Congress who share our pro-choice values. Otherwise, we will continue to see women's reproductive rights used as a bargaining chip," she said.

The political environment heading into the midterms does not augur well for that sort of change. Over the past several decades, election cycles favoring Republicans tend to lead to a stagnation in the number of House seats held by women, while elections favoring Democrats see the percent of women -- and especially of pro-choice women -- edge up.

"Women in Congress are disproportionately Democrats, so big Democratic years tend to be good for women candidates," Susan Carroll, a senior scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics, noted in 2008 after a Democratic headwind boosted the number of House women to a new record.

Today, fewer than a quarter of women in the House are Republicans.

As the GOP gears up for an ambitious election cycle, that picture seems unlikely to shift. "There appears to be a dearth of GOP women running in some of the most competitive House races across the country," CQ-Roll Call reported in mid-March.

Cultural cues also can prove nettlesome for the GOP, as a Republican fundraising push in the wake of the health-care vote is taking as its slogan "No more Madam Speaker" -- awkwardly suggesting that the party has no women it might even consider to lead the House.

The women's groups also might find mobilizing women directly against the president a challenge. Women overall hold a more positive view of the president than do men, according to an analysis of Washington Post polling data. Obama's approval rating has fallen 16 points among women since February 2009 to 56 percent; among men, it's dipped 19 points over that time period and now stands at 45 percent.

And Democratic women continue to hold somewhat more positive views of the president than do Democratic men -- a striking 89 percent of Democratic women approve, compared with 81 percent of Democratic men -- though approval has dropped among both groups since he took office.

Washington Post polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this story.

By Garance Franke-Ruta  |  March 22, 2010; 6:10 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency , Health Care  
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NOW does not have its hands tied to fund raise an account to pay for abortions rather than use government funding. I favor abortion rights for all. I do understand the position of anti-abortionist who do not want to fund abortions out of their pockets. Everything we want does not have to be funded by the government. I think private funding in this area would go a long way to keep health cost down and remove this issue from the line of fire that is killing our doctors and bombing our clinics. Yo might be surprised at who would spend money.

Posted by: txajohnson | March 27, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

No one is forced to raise an unwanted child. In every state the mother can turn over the child to the state if she does not pursue private adoption. I adopted 4 children from 2 states. I am so glad the biological mothers did not abort my kids. There is no way that taxpayer monies should be used to kill an innocent baby.

Posted by: Childrex | March 23, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Today, women forgo food, risk eviction and pawn their possessions as they attempt to raise money for an abortion. Some are forced to continue the pregnancy, abandon their education and stay trapped in poverty.

The Hyde Amendment must be repealed!

The Hyde 30 Years is Enough coalition has been working to repeal the Hyde Amendment. Check out their efforts and sign the petition online at

Posted by: myra4444 | March 23, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

@ whisperonthewind: Your comment was perfectly stated.

The very day that federal funds are allowed to pay for most, if not all, elective abortion costs you better believe that abortion will be used more than condoms and the pill. Women could sleep with whomever they want without the responsibility of having to pay for their actions because everyone else will pay for it for them.

Here's a story. I know someone who was on government assistance and had an infant child when she found out that she was pregnant again by another boyfriend. She had to scrape and scrounge for the money to pay for an abortion and after she had it she was extremely diligent in using birth control. The hardship of having to find the money for the procedure while she was in economic difficulty taught her to act responsibly. I have another friend who comes from a more privileged financial background. In college she had three abortions with nary a care because she knew that if she ever wanted to have one the resources were there. I think that story illustrates enough why I support the Hyde Amendment.

Posted by: gregjoshua | March 23, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Isn't it fantastic, the femminists have brought you Madonna, Brittainy Spears (With no panties) and Rosie O'Donnell. Their lifelong quest is to make sure you can kill your children in utero including females and now they insist you must pay for it through your taxes as well. Nice job ladies.

I have two wonderful daughters, glad I didn't abort them.

Posted by: kalamere | March 23, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Note to NOW: All women do not support your view. Although I do support your right to have an abortion, I have very strict personal rules regarding that right.

I do not, as a woman, want to pay for your abortion. I do not, as a woman, want my taxes to pay for your abortion. I do not, as a woman, want my insurance premiums to pay for your abortion. And I do not, as a woman, want my state or federal government to provide any funding whatsoever to pay for your abortion, including Medicaid funds.

If you can't seem to fund your abortion out of your own pocket, then I suggest you stop sleeping around.

Posted by: whisperonthewind | March 23, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Being able to have an abortion does not fit my age group. I could never have do it, but I always felt I did not have the right to tell someone else they could or could not get an abortion. I think alot of the problem you are having with this ammendment is that there are so many other avenues for young women to go down. They even have the morning after pill. There are alot of things that could be said about this. I think you need to take a different approach.

Posted by: casebastian7 | March 23, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

The Hyde Amendment is dead! Superceded by a new Healthcare Law which will be signed today! Mr. Obama mouths one more lie when he says that an executive order will keep it in effect!

The day that an Executive Order can trump Statutory Law is the day that the Constitution is truly dead and we will be living [if we are not already] in a full dictatorship.

That was fully exposed Sunday night when this healthcare bill became law. Face it folks, the Hyde Amendment is dead!

I hate it, but what can we do about it? There is only one answer. A new Hyde Amendment must be passed by Congress, and I don't see that happening.

Posted by: Tawodi | March 23, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

I might suggest that a better way forward for pro-lifers and pro-choices in the Democratic party would be to stop talking about whether or not to allow/fund abortions in all cases other than cases of rape, incest and life of the mother.

For instance (this is just one of many possibilities), it might make sense to strive for an updated consensus that is more restrictive of abortion in the second and third trimesters -- but more pro-choice in trimester 1.

Polls suggest that most Americans are not 100% pro-choice or pro-life, but the parties are, and this issue drives some people away from the Democrats.

Maybe a new consensus could just capture that middle.

Posted by: paul65 | March 22, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

I'm a pro-life Democrat who strongly supported the health care bill and who has welcomed the Democratic Party's opening up to people like me during the last several years.

No lesser a pro-choice advocate than Senator Schumer has been a leader in that process.

Many pro-life Representatives, like Marcy Kaptur, are among the most reliable progressives in Congress on non-abortion issues.

And pro-life Democrats (not to mention pro-life Republicans) are a growing segment of the population. This isn't the 1970 anymore. We've all seen babies in utero, and children born prematurely usually survive well these days.

I would like to see Democrats remain in the majority for a long time -- but I think that requires keeping pro-lifers like me within the tent.

Posted by: paul65 | March 22, 2010 7:19 PM | Report abuse

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