Entering 2021, the pro-life movement in America faces an uphill battle when it comes to defending pro-life legislature. In just a few days, the U.S. will transition from the most pro-life presidential administration in history to that of the most extreme platform in favor of abortion ever to run for office. While this puts all currently enacted pieces of pro-life legislation at risk, including those that fall within foreign policy like the Mexico City Policy and the Helms Amendment, national statutes may be first on the chopping block, starting with the Hyde Amendment.
The Hyde Amendment, first enacted in 1976, bans the use of tax dollars to pay for Medicaid abortions. Because it is only a provisionary law, it must be renewed with each new budget bill to stay in effect. In December, a House committee held hearings for elimination of the amendment in the new year. Among other complaints, the bill was called “discriminatory” on the grounds that it denies poor women access to the same constitutional right to abortion procedure that rich women can afford.
The fallacies operating behind this claim are manifold. Even without disputing the legitimacy of the “constitutional right” status established dubiously by Roe v. Wade, no obligation to subsidize any constitutional right has ever existed. Take the constitutional right to bear arms; the government is not discriminating against poor people when it refrains from collecting tax money to pay for guns for those who cannot afford them. Rather, it is protecting the conscience rights of citizens to whom the provision of guns is a violation of their moral code.
In the same manner, the Hyde Amendment protects the freedom of conscience of Americans. Dissolving it would be an act of discrimination against people who disagree with abortion as a matter of moral integrity. Those who disagree with gun distribution are not forced to pay for gun access, and therefore, this decision would imply that certain people’s conscience rights are more worthy of preservation than others.
Obviously, conscience rights do not always trump government authority, as the needs of public order and the rights of others must be taken into account. Yet, forcing all citizens to pay for abortions regardless of whether it goes against their fundamental beliefs represents a needless violation. The Hyde amendment could not possibly infringe on a constitutional right to abortion because its designation as such was based on its classification as a “private” decision. As part of a right to privacy, public funding for abortion was never entailed; it prevents a person from being prohibited to have an abortion, and similarly to gun ownership, does not guarantee access.
The Hyde Amendment was intended to be a compromise between American supporters and opponents of abortion after Roe v. Wade’s highly controversial verdict. Of course, the fight to end abortion in its totality must and will go on. But given the radically pro-abortion agenda of the incoming administration, it is more important than ever that this conscience right protection is upheld. Its loss would undermine the very function of law: fostering the common good, constituted by the integral well-being of all members of society.