Government must support mothers and children instead of paying for abortions, members of Congress heard at a Tuesday hearing on taxpayer-funded abortion.

“Free abortion is not in the best interest of our communities. We need health care, better housing, paid leave, affordable day care,” said Christina Bennett, communications director at the Family Institute of Connecticut, at a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee held on Dec. 8.

The hearing, titled, The Impact on Women Seeking an Abortion but are Denied Because of an Inability to Pay, included discussion of the Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer funding of abortions through Medicaid reimbursements, has been law for 44 years. It was first enacted in 1976 and has been passed by Congress each year as a rider to appropriations bills.

Although the amendment has had bipartisan support, Democrats have pushed for its repeal in recent years. President-elect Joe Biden now opposes it, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she would work to repeal it in the next Congress.

The pro-life research group Charlotte Lozier Institute estimated in 2016 that the policy has saved more than two million lives by reducing the number of abortions, especially among low-income populations benefitting from Medicaid. In 2020, the group updated its funding to estimate that the policy has saved more than 2.4 million lives.

Despite Democratic leadership targeting Hyde, Republicans have kept at least 50 seats in the Senate and flipped at least 14 House seats in the recent election, casting doubt about the ability of Democrats to successfully push through repealing Hyde.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), ranking member of the appropriations committee, said on Tuesday that if the Senate keeps the filibuster as is now expected, efforts to repeal Hyde are “not likely to bear fruit in the next Congress.”

Speaking to the committee on Tuesday, Bennett said her own mother faced “intense pressure to abort” her in 1981, and implored members of Congress to focus on maternal health and family-friendly policies instead of abortion, especially during a pandemic.

“Abortion-on-demand is a band-aid to the wound of economic and health disparities that cause women to seek abortion,” she testified. “Please, focus your efforts on better funding Medicaid across the country to improve the quality of lives instead of unjustly ending them.”

Democratic committee members, and several witnesses, criticized the Hyde Amendment as discriminatory and racist, alleging it impedes access to abortion for low-income women.

“The Hyde Amendment is a discriminatory policy,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), incoming chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “The time has come in this current moment to reckon with the norm, with the status quo.”

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the committee chair who will be retiring at the end of the 116th Congress, said she has been fighting the Hyde Amendment for years, and that the policy “continues to impose judgement and bully” poor women and women of color.

Dr. Herminia Palacio, president and  CEO of the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, said that the policy has “intentionally and unjustly imposed” burdens on women of color who may resort to using their emergency savings to pay for abortions not covered by Medicaid.

“The Hyde Amendment is a racist policy,” she said.

In September, a coalition of Black leaders wrote an open letter to Planned Parenthood, condemning the “targeting” Black communities for abortions. The letter, signed by more than 100 Black elected officials, pastors, and attorneys, highlighted “the systemic racism of America’s abortion practices” and noted that 36% of abortions in the U.S. are performed on Black women, who represent only 13% of the country’s female population.

On Tuesday, Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) said that her Mexican-American father was one of ten children.

“I completely, fundamentally reject the notion that getting rid of one of those ten, or more of those ten, would make life better for the rest of them. It just doesn’t work that way,” she said on Tuesday. “We’re talking about a human life.”

Furthermore, conversations about the impact of policies on the mother must also focus on the “personhood” of the unborn child, she said.

“That’s so outrageous to say that because you’re poor or because you’re black, the solution for your life and your success is to take away your pregnancies,” she said.