Nearly all of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate have united to warn the Democratic leadership they will oppose any effort to overturn long-standing bans on federal funding of abortion.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and 47 other GOP senators promised Majority Leader Charles Schumer in a Feb. 5 letter that they will vote to block attempts to eradicate or diminish the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life protections. The Hyde Amendment, first adopted in 1976, bars federal funds in the Medicaid program from paying for abortions.
The 48-member commitment is a promising development in efforts to maintain federal pro-life policies. As long as the legislative filibuster remains intact, the pro-life contingent will have the opportunity to block moves to repeal prohibitions on abortion funding. The Senate requires 60 votes to invoke cloture, as the procedural move is known, and thereby cut off a filibuster so a vote on a bill can occur.
“We have a message for Democratic Leader Schumer: we will vote to block any radical, pro-abortion agenda,” Daines said in a written release. “We’re in the fight for life together.”
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and 12 other pro-life organizations endorsed the letter, said Daines, founder and chair of the Senate Pro-life Caucus.
The pro-life senators’ letter came three days after ERLC President Russell Moore called in a letter for leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives to maintain the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life “riders,” as they are known, in yearly spending bills.
On Jan. 26, Rep. Jim Banks, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, and 199 other GOP members of the House sent a letter to congressional leaders with the same pledge to protect the Hyde Amendment – named after its author, the late Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill. – and other pro-life measures. The ERLC also supported Banks’ letter.
Chelsea Sobolik, a policy director for the ERLC, called the letter from Daines and the other Republicans “an important step in this debate on Capitol Hill.”
“Their commitment to block any bill that undermines pro-life riders like the Hyde Amendment ensures a pro-life perspective will be brought to any policy discussion,” Sobolik said in written comments. “Ensuring the protection of the unborn and American consciences is a top priority for the ERLC in the 117th Congress.”
The only Republicans not to sign the letter in the equally divided Senate were Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. They both voted in 2019 against the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act, which would have established a permanent, government-wide ban on funds for abortions.
The letter from Daines and his colleagues urged Schumer – who is majority leader by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris’ being the presiding officer in the 50-50 chamber – “to allow the Senate to continue its long tradition of bipartisan cooperation in enacting annual appropriations, as well as other health-related spending, with longstanding pro-life protections intact.”
“Abortion is not health care; rather, it is a brutal procedure that destroys the life of an innocent unborn child,” the pro-life senators said in the letter.
Democratic leaders in the House have signaled their intention to remove the Hyde Amendment from this year’s appropriation’s process, though it has been approved annually over the last 45 years. New President Joe Biden, who supported the Hyde Amendment during his 36 years in the Senate, became an opponent of the measure while running for the Democratic nomination in 2019.
While it has long been backed by a significant percentage of pro-choice advocates, Democratic opposition to Hyde has grown in recent years. The ban has saved the lives of more than 2.4 million unborn children in the last 45 years, according to an estimate in July 2020 by Michael New, associate scholar of the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute.
The pro-life letter to Schumer cited a recent public opinion survey that found 58% of Americans “oppose” or “strongly oppose” taxpayer funding of abortions within the United States. The survey, released Jan. 27 by Marist Poll and commissioned by The Knights of Columbus, also showed opposition by 31% of Democrats and 34% of those who identified themselves as pro-choice.
In addition to the ERLC, the other organizations that endorsed the letter included Americans United for Life, Family Research Council, March for Life, National Right to Life Committee, Students for Life of America, Susan B. Anthony List and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Neither Collins nor Murkowski are considered pro-lifers, though they have voted for some abortion restrictions. Collins had a 50%, pro-life rating in the 2019-20 congressional session and a 42% rating in 2017-18, according to the NRLC. Murkowski’s grade was 33% in 2019-20 and 28% in 2017-18.
Pro-life Republicans may receive help from two Democrats in the Senate on some legislation. Sens. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted for the 2019 bill to prohibit funding of abortion throughout the federal government.
In addition to Hyde, other pro-life protections the Republican senators and Moore urged Congress in separate letters to continue to support included the:
- Weldon Amendment, which has barred since 2004 funding for government programs that discriminate against health-care individuals or institutions that object to abortion.
- Helms Amendment, a rider first approved in 1973 that prohibits foreign aid funds from being used for abortion as a method of family planning.
- Dornan Amendment, which has banned federal funds, as well as congressionally approved local ones, from paying for elective abortions in the District of Columbia in most of the years since it was first approved in 1988.
Democrats who oppose Hyde describe it as a justice issue for low-income and minority women.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)