New Hyde Amendment--never discussed in Committee, much less debated on the floor of the Senate--and only discussed in Democratic-dominated Committee in the House last Friday and resulting in the decision of the Republican-dominated Committee to send a favorable “message bill” including the provisions that would expand last year’s Hyde Amendment. This “message bill”, which doesn’t legally constitute an amendment, apparently wafted through the Halls of Congress and landed on the desks of the top level congressional negotiators to become a rider on the omnibus spending bill which will be voted on by both houses by this Saturday.
The negotiations between the “appropriators” from both houses were secret, but everyone speculates that they vigorously debated this and other controversial items, and the language in the bipartisan spending bill contains the provisions of the democrat-sponsored Senate bill, S.142, and some, but not all of the provisions of the House H.R.7. Significantly, the part of the message bill that died along the way was the provision to interfere with the provision of abortion coverage by private insurance companies. Not coincidentally, this provision would have expanded Hyde to ban coverage to middle-class women who have insurance coverage. Medicaid-eligible poor women and many women of color have once again been left out in the cold.
So, what are we to conclude? Once again, despite the new and very welcome efforts of the All Above All organizations, including strong leadership from organizations of women of color, this anti-woman legislation has passed without the fingerprints of the legislators. Once again, we’re told that the Democratic Party, who most of us faithfully support, has done its best. Has it?
The Hyde Amendment has done more harm to the unity and strength of our women’s movement than all the right-wing fanatic attacks combined, because we have not made the fight against it the top priority. After the significant but not unmarred victory of Roe v. Wade, Henry Hyde figured out a way to finagle his way through the congressional maze to strike a grievous blow against American women. He used the ancient tactic of “divide and conquer”. This idea of attaching the legislation to the appropriations bill was brilliant; it put congress members, both Democrats and Republicans, in the position of having to vote the budget down in order to defeat the ban on abortion funding. But, over the 37 years that have passed since the Hyde Amendment slid through, both Democrats and Republicans have obviously had to cooperate in order for this strategy to work. After all, both parties have had ups and downs, and the Democratic Party, which has a pro-choice platform, has enjoyed sessions where they had much more power than today, but still they winked at the legislative sleight of hand.
In the meantime, women’s organizations and abortion providers have all worked very hard to ameliorate the impact of the Hyde Amendment. Many abortion providers offer sliding scale fees and both local and national fund-raising efforts have been able to offer full or partial help to women who could not afford their abortion. THESE EFFORTS HAVE BEEN BAND-AIDS ON THE WOUNDS OF AN UNJUST SYSTEM. Many individual women have been helped, but the fact remains that the Republican Party has been successful in keeping poor women and women of color down, and the Democratic Party has participated in this devious legislative charade to throw poor women under the bus in the name of the larger needs of the Democratic Party.
But, social injustice is only part of the harm. Another, equally important is that we allowed the anti-abortion forces to separate us; of dividing us by race and class.
We need to get real about this fight. It’s not enough to decry the Hyde Amendment. All Above All is correct in identifying the racist and classist Achilles Heel of the white, middle-class women’s movement, but we will make the same mistake today if we don’t go past this necessary step and start making the pro-choice advocates stop being apologists for the Democratic Party.
We have to insist that they throw a spotlight on the back room deals. We need to question the automatic support of the democratic candidate, especially if he’s anti-choice. Democratic Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania may have personal feelings toward abortion. He may even exercise those convictions by choosing to vote to outlaw abortion. That’s something he’ll have to explain to his constituency. But when he takes the lead in proposing Hyde Amendment legislation (S.142), then he is colluding with this deceptive process where bills are proposed and never get out of committee, but end up magically being hidden in the Budget Bill, so that Democrats can merely pretend to recognize the fundamental right of a woman to control her body, but vote for anti-abortion legislation.
We must hold the Democratic National Committee accountable for supporting a Democratic legislator who is actively working against their pro-choice platform.
September is our next opportunity to force our pro-choice advocates in Washington, D.C., to stop pleading political expediency to justify their silence.