Passed September 30, 1976, the Hyde Amendment prohibited the federal government from funding abortions except in cases where the mother’s life was threatened. In later years, provisions allowing the funding for cases of incest or rape were also included. As of 2016, the Amendment enjoyed the support of 57% of U.S. voters.
Predated by the Church Amendments, the Weldon Amendment was first passed in 2005 and forbids the federal government from denying funding to persons or organizations who refuse to perform abortions. While the Church Amendments listed moral and religious grounds as reasons that abortions could be refused, the subsequent Public Health Act of 1996 and the following Weldon Amendment opened up the right to refuse to perform or train for abortions to include virtually any reason that the provider wished.
The Democrat Party, in the runup to the 2016 Presidential Election, included abolishing the Hyde Amendment as part of its platform. In response, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 7 on January 24, 2017, in an attempt to make the Amendment permanent. The attempt by the House failed, though, as the measure fell in the U.S. Senate.
Earlier this year, U.S. President Joe Biden submitted a proposed budget to Congress that omitted the Hyde Amendment. This was the first time since 1976 that a U.S. Budget proposal had not included the Amendment.
In July, a House committee approved and forwarded to the Appropriations Committee a spending bill for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Following Pres. Biden’s lead, the committee kept the omission of the Hyde Amendment as part of its submission. The bill also excluded the Weldon Amendment which, like the Hyde Amendment, had been included in every previous spending bill since its inception.
Both Amendments coincide with each other and are often used as “bargaining chips” in the debate between the parties over spending bills. Ultimately, those in favor of restricting federal funding of abortions have “won out” by having the Amendments added.
On Monday, October 18, 2021, though, the Senate took the highly unusual measure of also excluding both Amendments from its spending bill for HHS. The unveiling of the bill by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) was met by jubilation from abortion supporters, and by scorn from opponents.
While budget and other spending bills are required to begin in the House under the U.S. Constitution, the Senate, as a matter of practice, often work on their own bills that substantially mirror those of the House. This provides for quick reconciliation of the differences between the two bills once the process has started.
The exclusion of both Amendments by both houses of Congress indicates that the federal budget is, at the very least, the closest it has been in 45 years to resuming funding of abortions.
By excluding these Amendments, Congress will not only ensure that federal funding can once again be used to finance abortions, but also that funding can once again be withheld from providers who refuse, for whatever reason including moral or religious grounds, to perform or train for the abortions.