December 17, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Add Hyde repeal to covid relief bill
Evangelicals now apparently accept violations of their religious liberty.
Details of a $900 billion covid relief bill will likely be released some time today, according to Bloomberg. Sources say the package will likely include “$600 in payments for individuals, $300-per-week in supplemental unemployment insurance payments and aid for small businesses as well as roughly $17 billion for airlines.” Legislation will not include state and city aid, however. That seems to be a concession on the part of the Democrats in exchange for GOP lawmakers dropping a corporate liability shield.
The country is in desperate need of relief, not least because as many as 40 million people risk being evicted from their homes, according to the Aspen Institute. (As I’m writing this, news came of jobless claims jumping unexpectedly to their highest level in three months.) To truly boost the economy, though, the Democrats should aim at the bottom of the social order, which is to say poor Black people, especially poor Black women. Anything helping people at the bottom is going to help everyone else. To that end, the Congress should get rid of the Hyde Amendment. The Democrats should justify getting rid of it using the same argument that went into establishing it.
Religious organizations of all varieties in this country received billions in the last round of covid relief.
What is the Hyde Amendment? It’s a provision of federal law named after the late Henry Hyde, a major abortion opponent. It bans Medicaid money from being used to pay for abortions with few exceptions, including risk of death to the mother. It has been attached, more or less unchanged, to every spending bill since 1976. For years, even defenders of abortion were OK with it. They recognized the legitimacy of the claim that Americans who oppose abortion on religious grounds should not be forced to pay for something that violates their sincerely held religious beliefs. Things are different now, as was apparent after then-candidate Joe Biden said he was OK with it before getting excoriated by women’s groups and heel-turning in a hurry. He and other leading Democrats now support repealing it with the so-called EACH Woman Act.
I don’t know how one goes about calculating the economic impact of the Hyde Amendment. I’m sure someone somewhere has. However, common sense tells us that whatever the actual number is, it’s gotta be big, especially with reference to the poor. The poor are not poor because they don’t have money. The poor are poor, because they are stuck in a social context in which they must spend all they have, and more. If they don’t, something bad is going to happen—for instance, going hungry or getting kicked out of the house with nowhere to go. The Hyde Amendment caused “a 13 percent increase in births among Medicaid recipients after the amendment was enacted, and estimated that it prevented more than 60,000 abortions per year,” according to the Times. Again, whatever the actual total of its economic impact, it’s gotta be big.
Which is why the Congress should get rid of it. The Republicans will balk, but that doesn’t mean the Democrats shouldn’t try. And now is the time, because now is when the covid pandemic has turned everything upside down. It’s now OK for taxpayers, even religiously conservative taxpayers, to pay for things that might violate their religious beliefs. That it’s OK is the only logical conclusion one can draw from the absence of any religiously conservative taxpayer lodging a complaint over this fact: religious groups of all varieties received billions in the last round of covid relief.
This might not sound pivotal, but think about it. White evangelical Protestants, most of whom believe Islam, Hinduism and even Catholicism are false religions, paid to keep mosques, temples and parishes open after the covid relief act passed in the spring. White evangelical Protestants, who among all Americans oppose abortion the most, funded congregations that not only tolerate abortion but openly defend its practice, such as the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA), respectively. By the same logic of the Hyde Amendment, white evangelical Protestants saw their sincerely held religious beliefs and liberties violated in one way or another.
Of course, white evangelical Protestants could put a stop to this violation of their faith and religious freedom. They could, as with abortion, demand the Congress not force them to pay for things they don’t agree with. But that would require removing themselves from being eligible for federal aid in the middle of a plague. Given that three-quarters of “Christian churches and Christian organizations” asked for and got forgivable business loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, that seems unlikely. The solid religious foundation beneath the Hyde Amendment has melted into the air.
The Democrats always make an economic and social justice case for repealing it, but they don’t have to do that anymore. The onus isn’t on them. All they need do is show things have changed. All they need do is show the Republicans, who will insist the Hyde Amendment is about religious freedom, don’t mean it. They don’t mean it, because religious freedom didn’t stop them from voting to fund “false religions” that openly defend abortion on religious grounds. Indeed, the pandemic is forcing every one of us to reassess what we thought was true but in this new light isn’t so true.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.