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Supporters and opponents of abortion rights agree on very little, including many facts, but there was a rare bit of consensus at a House judiciary subcommittee hearing Friday morning. The Hyde Amendment, the ban on almost all federal funding for abortion that turns 40 this year, prevents women from having abortions.
What to make of that agreement is another matter. To the three anti-abortion activists summoned by Republicans, the estimated 1 million abortions prevented by the ban is life-saving proof of the policy’s success. To abortion rights supporters, represented by the Democrats’ witness, URGE executive director Kierra Johnson, the denial of access is “a source of pain for many women."
The hearing, presided over by Rep. Trent Franks, at times awkwardly cobbled together a focus on Hyde, which has become an election-year issue, with the Born Alive Infants Protection Act. This new bill augments existing legislation signed by President George W. Bush, requiring medical care to infants in the highly rare instance of a live birth during an attempted abortion.
The Family Research Council’s Arina Grossu, one of the anti-abortion witnesses, pointed out, “Not one person to date has been charged or convicted under current Born-Alive law.”
President Barack Obama has already vowed to veto the legislation, which passed the House in 2015 and includes criminal sanctions for abortion providers. It has not yet been brought to a vote in the Senate. As for the Hyde Amendment, Donald Trump recently vowed to make it permanent, while Hillary Clinton wants to repeal it.
Rep. Franks lamented that abortion rights have not been a central issue in the general election campaign. “The American people deserve to know where the candidates stand,” he said, “in the most important election this century and in the last century.”
On that, too, abortion rights supporters would agree. Earlier this week, groups including NARAL Pro-Choice America, Ultra Violet, All About All Action Fund and more called on NBC News' Lester Holt to ask Clinton and Trump about abortion in the first presidential debate, scheduled for September 26.
Franks seemed attuned to the longstanding charge that Republicans are waging a war on women. When ranking Democrat Rep. Steve Cohen gave the floor to Rep. Judy Chu, saying she was the only woman on the panel, Franks interjected that all of his witnesses were female. (Cohen said he meant the members of Congress.)
That sensitivity to optics did not prevent several white, male Republican members from offering their opinion that high abortion rates in the African-American community constitute genocide, or that Roe v. Wade is tantamount to the Dred Scott decision upholding the rights of slaveowners. “Would you have any idea why that's not being called genocide by the black community?” Rep. Steve King, Republican of Iowa, asked one of the witnesses, though not the only black woman on the panel, Johnson, a supporter of abortion rights.
Johnson eventually cut in. “We cannot say it helps black women to take another opportunity to make a decision away from them,” she said. “We are not simple minded. We are not duped.”