The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Fifty Years of History Show Democrats’ Support for Abortion Rights Is a Lie

May 9, 2022

Following the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion revealing their intention to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Democrats are positioning themselves as the champions of abortion rights. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says the Democrats will introduce a new bill to protect a woman’s right to an abortion, adding, "Every senator now, under the real glare of Roe v. Wade repealed by the courts, is going to have to show which side they’re on."

Sounds tough, but these are just empty words!

Just this year, back in February before the recent leak of the Supreme Court’s opinion, the Democrats put forward a bill to codify Roe v. Wade into law. The bill, which passed in the House, was defeated 46–48 in the Senate despite the Democrats holding a Senate majority. They knew the bill would fail before they introduced it, given that they would need 60 votes if the Republicans chose to carry out a filibuster to stop it.

In fact, within just a few years after the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision on Roe v. Wade supposedly guaranteed a woman’s right to abortion, the politicians of both Republican and Democratic parties worked together to make abortions more difficult to obtain, particularly for poor and working class women, and have continued to do so ever since. In 1976, less than four years after Roe, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which prohibited Medicaid from paying for abortions for women without financial means. It could not have passed without wide support from the Democrats, since they controlled the Senate 60–37 and the House 291–144. President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, signed the Hyde Amendment into law.

In 1976, the last year before the amendment took effect, 300,000 low-income women obtained abortions through Medicaid. In the two years after it took effect, Medicaid paid for only 3,000 each year.

The Hyde Amendment requires approval every year, and the politicians of both parties have voted to do so, with some minor changes to it. This despite the fact that the Democrats held a majority in both the Senate and the House while Democrat Bill Clinton was president, as they do now under Biden. And under Obama, the Democrats not only controlled both houses of Congress, but had a filibuster-proof 60–40 majority in the Senate for a period.

While he was a Senator, Joe Biden voted consistently to maintain the Hyde Amendment, and in 1983 even attempted to add back in a ban in cases of rape and incest.

The passage of the Hyde Amendment set the stage for further restrictions on abortions at the state level. While these attacks have primarily been led by the Republicans, the Democrats have done little to stop them, even when they’ve held the presidency and both houses of Congress.

The Democrats plan to use the threat of the overturn of Roe v. Wade to convince supporters of abortion rights to place their hopes in winning more legislative seats, both at the federal and state level in this year’s elections. Their willingness to go along with attacks on abortion rights over the last 50 years shows that waiting for them to act is a pipe dream.