The so-called “American Rescue Plan” opens a startling new chapter in Congress’s debate over what has been all but settled law for four decades: the federal government’s long-standing policy of not using taxpayer funds to pay for or promote abortion on demand. The late Rep. Henry J. Hyde, author of the primary provision affecting the Medicaid program, spoke for dozens of members in both political parties when he proposed an abortion funding ban in 1976. The amendment and variations affecting nearly two dozen other federal agencies have been enacted under presidents of both parties nearly every year since.
While the amendment is about the conscience concerns of the majority of taxpayers who oppose abortion funding, it is about much more than that. It has been a matter of life and death for millions. A detailed analysis of the impact of the Hyde Amendment by the Charlotte Lozier Institute demonstrates more than 2,400,000 of our fellow Americans would not be among us without this amendment. If any fact should be unifying about a public policy enactment, this one alone should be. The Hyde Amendment saves lives. Repealing it will claim 60,000 more victims every year.
In an incisive peer-reviewed study in the Open Journal of Preventive Medicine, public health experts James Studnicki, Sharon MacKinnon, and John Fisher calculated exactly how much life is lost through abortion. The authors took the concept of years of potential life lost common to public health analysis and applied it to abortion in North Carolina. While recognizing that all lives are of equal value, years of potential life lost allows analysis of the cumulative impact of diseases and accidents according to the stage of life at which they occur. Events that strike at babies and toddlers clearly result in higher impacts in terms of years of potential life lost.
Viewed through this prism of loss, abortion contributed 76% of the years of potential life lost among African Americans in 2008 and 3.2 times the years of potential life lost inflicted on blacks by all other causes combined. The toll of abortion among black Americans is some four times its toll among whites nationally, is persistent, and is seldom recognized as a public health crisis. Studnicki, Fisher, and colleague James Sherley’s 2020 review of the phenomenon concluded that abortion “is the most demographically consequential occurrence for the minority population.”
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Yes, black lives have intrinsic value; they do matter. The numbers of blacks who are not walking among us because of one single factor, abortion, is alarming and heartbreaking.
Who is to know if that lost life would have found the cure for cancer or developed a lifesaving vaccine for a pandemic? How can we know if that person would not have broken track records such as Jesse Owens or rescued enslaved men and women such as Harriet Tubman? And though it is true that not every person receives the same gifts and some individuals leave their biggest imprint in the hearts of loved ones and not in the history books, every life is precious and worthy of protection no matter what.
Compounding this loss is the fact that an initial abortion is likely to lead to a second or third. In another groundbreaking study published in Health Services Research and Managerial Epidemiology in 2020, Studnicki and colleagues examined the history and sequence of pregnancy outcomes among nearly 7.4 million Medicaid-eligible women from the 17 states that had no Hyde Amendment enforced. What they found was compelling. Measuring pregnancy outcomes after an initial event, abortion, miscarriage, or childbirth, the authors found, “Women whose initial pregnancy ended in abortion were also increasingly more likely to experience another abortion at each subsequent pregnancy.” An abortion does not simply defer the beginning of family life; instead, the authors conclude, “abortion begets abortion.”
Repealing the Hyde Amendment will only deepen this disparity and perpetuate its tragic effects. It will tell the poor that their hopes are limited, their children are disposable, and their communities are unwanted. Every abortion is a tragedy from which we dare not turn away.
Star Parker is the founder and president of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education. Charles A. “Chuck” Donovan is president of Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of Susan B. Anthony List.