Friday, March 17, 2017
The Hyde Amendment, a ban on the Medicaid funding of abortion, is once again at the center of the abortion wars. For the most part, critics of the Hyde Amendment argue that it authorizes discrimination against poor women. Using original archival research, this Article show that the amendment has had a far greater impact.
In popular debate, proponents of the Hyde Amendment helped to forge an idea of complicity-based conscience that has recently transformed fights about everything from same-sex marriage to contraceptive access. Constitutionally, the fight for the Hyde Amendment also revolutionized the rights-privilege distinction in constitutional law. In abortion-funding cases, the Court held that there was no constitutional problem with laws that created practical obstacles to abortion access so long as the obstacles themselves were not controlled or created by the state. This approach has resonated outside the context of abortion law.
The Court’s recent decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt makes a challenge to the Hyde Amendment realistic and compelling. The cases upholding the Hyde Amendment regard as constitutional any burden on a woman’s right to choose that is neither created nor controlled by the government. Whole Woman’s Health explicitly rejected this approach, looking instead at how the formal terms of law interact with forces beyond the government’s control. For this reason, the Article shows that Whole Woman’s Health undermines the core premises of the Hyde Amendment and creates an opening for those seeking to revisit the distinction between negative and positive rights.
The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt represents the Supreme Court’s most important intervention in the constitutional politics of abortion. However, as this Article shows, Hellerstedt does not represent the clean break some commentators identify. Instead, the decision comes at the end of a decades-long movement-countermovement conflict about the meaning of an unconstitutional undue burden on a woman’s right to choose abortion.
Positioning Hellerstedt in historical context matters because doing so underscores the Court’s ongoing responsiveness to popular views of what the Constitution says about abortion. The history studied in the Article also reveals what should happen in the next front of the abortion wars, when the Court considers fetal-protective, rather than woman-protective, antiabortion laws. To maintain the delicate balance created by Casey, the Court should require evidence that both fetal-protective and woman-protective abortion regulations are substantially related to their stated goal.