After playing defense for much of the time since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, pro-abortion activists are shifting to offense — demanding that Congress use taxpayer funds to pay for the procedure.

The National Network of Abortion Funds hosted a conference call Tuesday to build support for a push to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which since 1977 has prohibited federal taxpayer funds from paying for abortion in most cases.

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Renee Bracey Sherman, senior public affairs manager for the network, called the Hyde Amendment a “racist, classist” restriction on the right created by the Roe decision. She noted that the amendment, named for the late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), is not enshrined in a statute. Instead, Congress reauthorizes it every year.

“We envision a world where all people have the power and resources to care for and affirm their bodies, identities and health for themselves and their families in all areas of their life,” she said. “As we shift the conversation to abortion, we want to make sure that it become a real option, accessible, without shame and judgment.”

For the most part, even abortion-rights advocates in Congress have accepted the reality of the Hyde Amendment. Polls show Americans are generally much more skeptical of the notion of taxpayer-funded abortions than the right to abortion.

The National Network of Abortion Funds aims to change that, pointing to the 17 states that use local funds to let Medicaid recipients obtain abortions. Democrat Hillary Clinton pledged during last year’s presidential race to eliminate the Hyde Amendment. For the first time, the Democratic Party included a plank calling for the Hyde Amendment’s appeal.

David Christensen, vice president of government affairs at the Family Research Council, said he believes abortion advocates have been emboldened by a provision in the Affordable Care Act that bypassed the Hyde Amendment and allowed for the expansion of federal funding of abortion through private insurance plans.

“The danger to the Hyde Amendment was on display in the Democratic platform last year,” he said.

Christensen said the Hyde Amendment is a vital measure to protect life. He pointed to one study suggesting that it has prevented 2 million abortions.

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Jim Sedlak, executive director of the American Life League, said he does not believe the Hyde Amendment goes far enough because it includes exceptions for rape and incest.

“We don’t believe government funds should ever be used to kill babies,” he told LifeZette.

Tuesday’s conference call featured “abortion storytellers” talking about their own abortions and their experiences trying to help low-income women end their pregnancies.

Kelsea McLain, a board member at Carolina Abortion Fund, said she has had two abortions. The first time, she said, she felt defeated when she found out the insurance she had would not cover the abortion.

“The $500 price tag that I faced at the abortion clinic was way more than enough to leave me feeling panicked, freaked out,” she said.

McClain said her organization could help only a fraction of the 2,500 people who called last year.

“The reality is that the Hyde Amendment creates a culture in which it’s acceptable to make people work hard to access abortion care,” she said. “It emboldens the stigma that impacts access, which is why we have to fight back against Hyde and the harm it creates.”

Megan Jeyifo, a board member at the Chicago Abortion Fund, urged people to pressure Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign a bill that would expand state taxpayer funding of abortions. The Republican governor had said in April that he would veto the measure. Now that the bill has landed on his desk, he has waffled and lists himself as undecided.

The bill would be important to not only Illinois women but also those in other Midwestern states who travel there to obtain abortions, she said.

“We are a sanctuary state for abortion care,”Jeyifo said.

She added that she would not have been able to afford her abortion without the help of her father’s girlfriend, because the cost was equal to two and a half months of the salary she earned at a food cooperative.

Jeyifo said most of the calls her organization fields come from women who already have children. She said eliminating the Hyde Amendment would improve women’s health care.

“That’s what abortion is — health care,” she said.

Layidua Salazar, a board member at ACCESS Women’s Health Justice in California, said she is an illegal immigrant who was pregnant when she was in deportation proceedings. She said she was fortunate to be able to obtain an abortion because the state pays for abortions for low-income women.

Salazar said that should be routine across the country.

“Rights are not rights if they’re theoretical,” she said.

The American Life League’s Sedlak said he does not think the Hyde Amendment is in imminent danger, but he said vigilance is important.

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“They continually try to do that,” he said. “I don’t expect that to happen, but you never know.”

The push to end the Hyde Amendment comes as the House of Representatives plans to vote next week on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would end late-term abortions after 20 weeks.

“It is difficult to imagine what could be more important than establishing who is protected under the law and who is not — who is given a chance at life, and who is denied it,” Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) said a news conference Tuesday.

(photo credit, homepage image: Lorie Shaull, Flickr; photo credit, article image: thecrazyfilmgirl, Flickr)