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Manchin Goes After Abortion Rights in Latest Reconciliation Bill Opposition

Activists say the Hyde Amendment targets poor, nonwhite populations by barring Medicaid from funding abortions.

Sen. Joe Manchin speaks to reporters outside of the U.S. Capitol on September 30, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

On Wednesday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) told far-right publication The National Review that he wants the anti-abortion Hyde Amendment to be included in the Democrats’ Build Back Better Act. The statement comes as the lawmaker is making a series of demands that contradict the Democratic agenda for the reconciliation bill.

“We’re not taking the Hyde amendment off. Hyde’s going to be on,” Manchin told the publication, when asked about Democrats’ plan to expand Medicaid. “It has to be. It has to be. That’s dead on arrival if that’s gone.”

The Hyde Amendment is a 45-year-old legislative provision that bars federal funds for programs like Medicaid from being used to pay for abortions. Reproductive rights activists have long decried the ban for being discriminatory and restricting abortion access, as it makes it harder for nonwhite and low-income people to receive an abortion.

Though the Hyde Amendment has been included in every congressional funding bill on a bipartisan basis since 1976, Democrats have recently reconsidered its inclusion. In July, the House passed a bill to fund the Department of Health and Human Services, among other agencies. This bill excluded both the Hyde Amendment and the Helms Amendment, which bars U.S. funds from being used to support abortion services in other countries. The Senate has yet to take up the legislation.

However, Manchin has continually been at the forefront of fights for the inclusion of the Hyde amendment in legislation. He backed an amendment to include the anti-choice ban when the Senate authorized the reconciliation bill, and in July sent a letter to the Senate and Senate Appropriations Committee leaders asking for the inclusion of the ban in this year’s funding bills.

The lawmaker has been on a rampage to water down the reconciliation bill, taking particular aim at climate proposals in the bill. His insistence over the Hyde Amendment could result in further antagonism from progressives in Congress, who are already bristling over his abstract, conservative demands for the bill during its most critical week thus far.

Manchin’s announcement comes at a particularly fraught time for abortion rights in the U.S. Progressives and Democrats have been scrambling to enshrine abortion rights protections into law as the Supreme Court threatens overturning Roe v. Wade after conservative justices’ decision to uphold a near-total ban on abortions in Texas.

On Thursday, progressive Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), Cori Bush (D-Missouri) and Barbara Lee (D-California) gave powerful testimony about their own experiences with abortion in front of the House Oversight Committee. The committee was examining threats to abortion rights in wake of the Texas law.

Bush testified about her decision to have an abortion after being raped as a teenager and becoming pregnant. “I was 18. I was broke, and I felt so alone. I blamed myself for what had happened to me,” she said. “How could I make this pregnancy work? How could I, at 18 years old and barely scraping by, support a child on my own?”

Lee spoke of traveling out of the country to surreptitiously receive an abortion before abortion rights were protected by Roe v. Wade. “I was one of the lucky ones, Madam Chair,” she said, noting that many people are forced to have unsafe abortions.

“The Hyde Amendment from its inception was racist and discriminatory and aimed at people with low incomes and people of color,” Lee continued later in her testimony. She pointed to stories like that of Rosie Jimenez, the first person to die after Hyde was passed. Jimenez couldn’t afford the fee to go to a licensed OB-GYN for an abortion and got an infection from the unlicensed abortion that she received instead.

Though the Hyde Amendment allows for narrow exceptions like cases of rape, incest or a pregnancy that would cause death, abortion rights advocates say that the ban too often results in dangerous cases like Jimenez’s. Advocates also say that the ban forces some people to make difficult financial choices like forgoing utility payments to afford the medical procedure. Because of the racial and financial disparities that the Hyde Amendment enforces, progressives say that the ban further entrenches oppressive government forces.

“Bans on abortion coverage are driven by the same forces motivating state-sanctioned violence and even voting restrictions,” Destiny Lopez wrote for Truthout in August. “Each aims to control the lives of Black, Brown and other people of color, especially folks struggling financially.”

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