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Why Aren’t Democrats United in Repealing the Hyde Amendment?

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WASHINGTON, : US Representative Henry Hyde, R-IL, Chairman of the US House Judiciary Committee conducts impeachment hearings 01 December on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The Committee is hearing testimony on the consequences of perjury and related crimes. AFP PHOTO/Luke FRAZZA (Photo credit should read LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images)

Too many Democratic men who don’t really care that much about women’s reproductive rights, as it turns out.

Our analysis indicates that the gender composition of the Democratic caucus can partially explain why it has lagged behind its voters on this issue. Of the 50 Democratic men who haven’t backed Hyde repeal, only eight represent districts Donald Trump carried in the 2016 election. When we predict House Democrats’ support for Hyde repeal, controlling for district and member characteristics, we find that—as opposed to climate action and financial regulation—a representative’s gender is a powerful predictor of whether a given House Democrat supports or opposes repealing Hyde.

In a model controlling for district level support of Hyde and Trump’s margin, an incumbent’s gender reaches traditional thresholds of statistical significance. Holding all other factors at their averages, a generic male House Democrat would have a 63 percent chance of supporting Hyde Amendment repeal; a generic Democratic woman representing the same hypothetical district has a 79 percent chance of supporting repeal.

While numerous factors influence whether representatives support specific policies, we want to know what would happen if only women were voting on the repeal of the Hyde Amendment.

The true nature of this counterfactual is inherently unknowable, since—as our model indicates—changing the gender composition of the Democratic caucus would change the relationship between district characteristics and support for repealing Hyde. Given the relationship between gender and support for Hyde repeal, this should if anything bias our counterfactual estimates downward. In other words, since our model predicts support for repeal of Hyde among Democrats’ generic replacements, based on the behavior of all other Democrats currently in office, then an actual counterfactual where all Democratic members of the House were women would likely have even more consistent support for repealing the Hyde Amendment than our results below show.

To explore the implications of more women running for office, we estimate support for the Hyde Amendment among House Democrats based on their gender, district partisanship, and district-level public opinion on whether the federal government should be banned from funding abortion services (we used the outputs of a multilevel regression model created by political scientist Christopher Skovron). All things equal, we would expect members from electorally safe and liberal districts, where the public is more supportive of federal funding for abortion services, to be more likely to support repealing Hyde. Unsurprisingly, 72 percent of Democrats in 2016 Clinton districts support repealing Hyde, compared to 17 percent of Democrats in Trump districts. Three of the five (60 percent) women who represent districts that Trump either won or Clinton won by fewer than five points support repealing Hyde, compared to four of the 15 men representing similar districts (27 percent).

But what does support for the repeal look like if we assume all the districts are represented by women?

To answer this question, we specify two sets of predictions based on our model: one in which every House Democrat is replaced by a generic Democrat of their same gender, and one in which every House Democrat is replaced by a generic Democratic woman. In this first set of predictions, 110 of 193 current Democrats in the House represent districts where a generic replacement of the same gender would be “very likely” to support Hyde repeal. Thirty-eight represent districts where this generic replacement would be “likely” to support repeal, and 45 represent districts where their generic replacement would be “unlikely.”

Obviously these things are multi-causal but that’s pretty damning of a lot of male Democrats in Congress.

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