STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
In this country, the House of Representatives is not ready to challenge a long-standing U.S. law on abortion. It's a ban more than 40 years old on most federal funding for abortions. Democrats running for president have denounced this ban, but the Democrats who control the House are preparing to pass a spending bill extending it. Here's NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Democrats running for president in 2020 are clear. Their party's nominee will defend abortion rights, including ending the 43-year-old ban on federal funding for abortions known as the Hyde Amendment.
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ELIZABETH WARREN: I don't support the Hyde Amendment, and I will lead the fight to have it overturned.
KAMALA HARRIS: And the bottom line on the Hyde Amendment is that it is directly, in effect, targeting poor women.
JOE BIDEN: If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone's ZIP code.
SNELL: Those were presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Joe Biden in recent weeks. But back in Washington, House Democrats say it's not that easy. The Hyde Amendment was first adopted in 1976 in a bipartisan vote by lawmakers who opposed using taxpayer money for abortions. Named for its author, Republican Congressman Henry Hyde, the ban was a response to Roe v. Wade, which was decided three years earlier.
Since then, it's been baked into spending bills that fund the Department of Health and Human Services. That bill includes major Democratic priorities, including more than $2 billion for Alzheimer's research and more than $3 billion to fight AIDS. And that is reality, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told an audience at an event in Washington this week.
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NANCY PELOSI: I don't think it's good public policy, and I wish we never had the Hyde Amendment. But that is the law of the land right now, and I don't see that there's an opportunity to get rid of it with the current occupant of the White House and some in the United States Senate.
SNELL: That is why leaders tamped down an effort by freshman Democrat Ayanna Pressley to strip the Hyde Amendment from this year's spending bill. House Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal says she wishes Hyde didn't exist. She says the party is now overwhelmingly in favor of abortion rights, but spending bills need bipartisan support to avoid another government shutdown.
PRAMILA JAYAPAL: You know, we are where we are. People don't want to throw that in into an appropriations bill that has to go to a Republican Senate and be signed by a Republican president.
SNELL: Democrats in Congress acknowledge that presidential candidates have to take a stand. Biden was recently forced to come out against Hyde after abortion rights supporters, including other Democrats, attacked the former vice president for publicly backing the ban. And House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries says a lot of candidates running for president have faced the same dilemma.
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HAKEEM JEFFRIES: I believe that every single candidate for president who served in either the House or the Senate - every single one of them voted for an appropriations bill that contains the Hyde Amendment.
SNELL: That includes Harris, Biden, Warren and nearly a dozen other candidates. In an interview this week with the NPR Politics Podcast, Harris rejected that characterization.
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HARRIS: Let's be clear. I've not voted for the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment is the law, and so it has been attached to other funding bills. And until we repeal it, which is what I am in favor of, it will be attached to federal government funding bills. That's the problem with the Hyde Amendment.
SNELL: Sitting lawmakers like Harris will have to decide if they're willing to risk a shutdown fight over federal money for abortion when the spending bills come up for a vote later this year. Kelsey Snell, NPR News, the Capitol.
(SOUNDBITE OF BRIAN ENO AND KARL HYDE SONG, "TO US ALL")
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