Back when the debate over health care reform began — I believe it was a Tuesday, in the late Pleistocene — nobody expected that it would end up reviving the memory of Henry Hyde.

For those too young to remember, Hyde was a Republican Congressman whose career highlights included trying to impeach President Clinton over Monica Lewinsky at the same time as he was admitting to his own extramarital affair. Where his name will live on, though, is in the Hyde Amendment: Passed in 1977, when the paint was still wet on Roe v. Wade, it declared that though abortion might be legal, Congress wasn’t about to let Medicaid pay for any.

For more than 30 years since, the Hyde Amendment has been quietly forcing countless women to weigh not just whether to become moms, but whether to forgo food or rent that month if the decision was “no.” Studies show that when abortion funding is unavailable, about one in every four poor women instead end up going through with unwanted pregnancies. Over three decades, that comes to about one million women who’ve been forced to have kids because they couldn’t afford not to.

Now we have the Stupak amendment, tacked on to the House health care bill by an anti-abortion Democrat to “preserve the right of conscience” established by Hyde. Even leaving aside whether everyone should get a moral veto over use of their tax dollars — does that mean I can defund the Iraq War, or Jim Lehrer? — the government already subsidizes some abortions: If you’re flush enough to have a flex spending account, for instance, you get a tax break on all medical bills, abortion included.


Like Hyde, the Stupak amendment is a “compromise” that throws poor women under the bus to placate anti-abortionists without enraging the kinds of women who might have time to march in the streets. If the Democrats have any guts, they’ll ax Stupak — and then turn their sights on Hyde. If safe and legal abortion is the law of the land, then it needs to be so for all women — not just for those who can afford it.

– Neil deMause can be contacted at and on Twitter @neildemause.

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