“The Hyde amendment is something that the majority of the country does not support.”

— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Oct. 3

The Hyde amendment, named after its prime sponsor, the late congressman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), for almost 45 years has prohibited federal funding for abortions except in certain circumstances. It was originally aimed at people enrolled in Medicaid, the federal health-care program for the poor, but it has since expanded to other federal programs.

Medicaid is jointly funded by the federal government and states, but only 16 states use their own funds to cover abortion for low-income women, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The amendment is attached to annual appropriations bills and has remained a durable part of the law.

President Biden, who once supported the Hyde amendment as a lawmaker, has called for its removal. But Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said the president’s big spending plan would “be dead on arrival” without the abortion-funding ban intact. For her part, Jayapal — who testified before Congress recently about her own abortion — told CNN that she would not vote for any spending bill that retains the Hyde amendment.

Then she made the statement above — that the Hyde amendment is “something that the majority of the country does not support.” What’s the evidence for that?

The Facts

Public opinion polls are used to determine what Americans believe. But not every poll is equal. The framing of a question can make a huge difference in the outcome — as well as whether the poll randomly contacts people to ask questions. Another consideration is whether the poll is done by an independent pollster — or on behalf of an organization seeking a certain policy outcome.

As it turned out, Jayapal was relying on a poll released by an organization that favors abortion rights. We will examine that poll in a moment. Let’s first look at some independent polls, collected by our colleagues in The Washington Post’s polling unit. You will see some of these are rather old. But many indicate that Jayapal is wrong.

  • 2018 PRRI poll: “In your view, should government health insurance programs for low-income women, like Medicaid, cover abortion, or not?” Yes: 46 percent. No: 51 percent.
  • 2016 YouGov poll: “The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funds from being used to fund abortions, except in the case of incest, rape or to save the life of the mother. Do you support or oppose the Hyde Amendment?” Support: 55 percent. Oppose: 29 percent.
  • 2016 Politico/Harvard poll:Medicaid is the largest government program that pays for health care for low income people. Currently the federal government prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortions under Medicaid? Do you favor or oppose changing this policy to allow Medicaid funds to be used to pay for abortions?” Favor: 36 percent. Oppose: 58 percent.
  • 2014 CNN-ORC poll: “Generally speaking, are you in favor of using public funds for abortions when the woman cannot afford it, or are you opposed to that?” Favor: 39 percent. Oppose: 56 percent.

There was one independent poll that found a different result, though the question was worded in a complicated way that might have confused respondents.

  • 2020 Cooperative Election Study: “On the topic of abortion. Do you support or oppose the following proposals: Prohibit the expenditures of funds authorized or appropriated by federal law for any abortion.” Support: 41 percent. Oppose: 59 percent.

Chris Evans, a spokesman for Jayapal, responded to our list by citing a poll conducted by Hart Research Associates in 2019 for All* Above All, which advocates for public insurance coverage of abortion.

“As one of the one in four women in America who have had abortion, Congresswoman Jayapal personally knows that the outdated Hyde amendment dangerously keeps millions of people — disproportionately people of color and low-income individuals — from making decisions about their own pregnancy and family, and accessing the health care they need and deserve,” he said.

The Hart poll asked this mouthful of a question.

  • “Medicaid is the health insurance program for people with low incomes. Under current federal policy, if a woman who is enrolled in Medicaid becomes pregnant, Medicaid will pay for her pregnancy care and childbirth, but Congress currently denies her coverage for the cost of an abortion. Would you favor or oppose enabling a woman enrolled in Medicaid to have all her pregnancy-related healthcare covered by her insurance, including abortion services?”

Rebecca Naser, senior vice president at Hart, said the long introduction was necessary. “We know from qualitative research that the public has pretty limited understanding of what Medicaid is and what it covers and does not cover as it relates to pregnancy, which is why we briefly explain what the Medicaid program is and current policy on abortion coverage,” she said.

The results were certainly different than the other surveys. Favor: 62 percent. Oppose: 38 percent.

Note, however, that the question asked about “pregnancy-related healthcare,” with abortion as an afterthought. Moreover, before this question people were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with statements that, to our mind, suggest the pump was being primed. For instance:

  • “However we feel about abortion, politicians should not be allowed to deny someone’s health coverage for it just because they are struggling financially.”
  • “Regardless of whether she has private or government-funded health insurance, every woman should be able to get the full range of reproductive healthcare, including annual screenings, birth control, pregnancy tests, and abortion.”
  • “Health insurance should cover reproductive healthcare, including abortion.”

(We raised our concerns with Naser and did not get a direct response.)

Chrissy Faessen, a spokeswoman for All* Above All, cited a more recent poll — done this year by Ipsos for the group. (She also provided two other polls, but they had fishy methodology.)

This poll, conducted with a high-quality online probability panel and weighted similar to the Axios Ipsos polls, started with a simple question that mirrored the framing of the 2018 PRRI poll.

  • “Do you support or oppose Medicaid insurance covering abortion?” (Support: 54 percent. Oppose: 44 percent.)

Faessen argued that the earlier polls we had cited were slanted in a conservative way because they asked about government spending. “People’s views can change very much depending on whether something is framed as a government service or government funding,” she said.

Chris Jackson, a senior vice president at Ipsos, said the differences between the 2018 PPRI poll (Yes: 46 percent. No: 51 percent) and the 2021 Ipsos poll were not especially significant. “The public is truly split 50-50 on this topic,” he said. “The difference is in how you ask the question.”

The Pinocchio Test

We’re often wary of polls commissioned by advocacy groups. In this case, Jayapal is relying on a poll done for a group that wants more public funding of abortions. The outcome of polls often depends greatly on the framing of questions.

But there has been little recent high-quality independent polling on this issue and it’s possible that attitudes are shifting. The Ipsos poll from this year asked a straightforward question that resulted in a finding that a slight majority of Americans supported Medicaid funding of abortions — in other words, the end of the Hyde amendment.

That result has to be balanced against the many other polls that reached a different conclusion, suggesting the answer is not as clear-cut as Jayapal asserts. She earns Two Pinocchios.

Two Pinocchios

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