On Thursday night June 6, Joe Biden reversed course and withdrew his support for the Hyde Amendment. Read the story here.
Former Vice President Joe Biden muddled into the suddenly revived culture war over abortion when he was forced to offer a qualified reiteration of his support of the Hyde Amendment on June 5. That decades-old agreement prevents federal funds under most circumstances from being used for abortions.
A video-captured conversation came to light on June 5 between the former vice president and a South Carolina activist, in which Mr. Biden appeared to suggest he backed the repeal of the Hyde Amendment. His campaign quickly clarified that Mr. Biden thought the activist was asking about the so-called Mexico City rule, which prohibits U.S. foreign aid to non-American organizations that provide abortion services.
The campaign said Mr. Biden supports ending the Mexico City rule but backs the Hyde Amendment—for now. That would change, it said, “if avenues for women to access their protected rights under Roe v. Wade are closed.”
A Biden campaign spokesperson explained the former vice president specifically “would be open to repealing” Hyde if abortion access is further threatened by laws—like those recently passed in Georgia and Alabama—that deeply restrict access to abortion. The hedging prompted an intraparty outcry, with advocates for abortion rights deploring Mr. Biden’s position and top Democrats reaffirming their commitment to abortion rights and ending Hyde. The pushback marked the first significant instance in which virtually the entire crowded 2020 field united to critique Mr. Biden, who has emerged as an early Democratic front-runner.
The campaign said Mr. Biden supports ending the Mexico City rule but backs the Hyde Amendment—for now.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand tweeted: “Reproductive rights are human rights, period. They should be nonnegotiable for all Democrats.” On Capitol Hill, California Sen. Kamala Harris told The Associated Press she was “absolutely opposed to the idea that a woman is not going to have an ability to exercise her choice based on how much money she’s got.”
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, during an MSNBC town hall in Indiana, said Mr. Biden was wrong to support the abortion funding restriction. “Women of means will still have access to abortions,” Ms. Warren said. “Who won’t will be poor women, will be working women, will be women who can’t afford to take off three days from work.”
Former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke said on CBS News that Mr. Biden was “absolutely wrong” on his stance on the Hyde Amendment. “I hope that Joe Biden rethinks his position,” Mr. O’Rourke said. “Perhaps he doesn’t have all the facts. Perhaps he doesn’t understand who the Hyde Amendment hurts the most.”
Other presidential candidates, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, also voiced support for ending the Hyde Amendment.
The Democratic Party’s absolutism on Hyde is of recent vintage (the call for its repeal was only added to the party platform in 2016), but candidate Biden may prove to be the only Democratic contender who dares to suggest he supports it this election cycle. It was a discouraging spectacle for pro-life Democrats still seeking to influence the direction of the 2020 campaign.
“The push back on his very weak support for Hyde and the continued effort by Democratic leaders to make pro-life Democrats feel unwelcome is a bad strategy for Democrats,” Kristen Day, the executive director of Democrats For Life of America, commented via email. “When you have top-tier 2020 candidates saying they don’t want us to vote, we won’t. There is a growing frustration [that the party] is taking our loyalty for granted. If they continue, they are going to turn around and see we are no longer there.”
“The push back on his very weak support for Hyde and the continued effort by Democratic leaders to make pro-life Democrats feel unwelcome is a bad strategy for Democrats.”
In a statement Democrats for Life of America released on June 6, Ms. Day said, “With all the major candidates fighting to be the most extreme on abortion, it is encouraging to see a candidate bring a more moderate position to the discussion.” She added that the pro-life Democrats “do have concerns about the qualification that he would oppose it under certain conditions.
“Pro-life Democratic voters would want further assurances on his commitment to Hyde and to his overall opinion of inclusion for pro-life voters in the party,” she said. “We would like to see the focus on support to make abortion rare, not less safe and more available. We believe our party can and should find common ground on those lines. Considering the large number of poor women who believe that abortion is their only choice, paying for abortion and not focusing on alternatives does not coincide with our Democratic values.”
Ms. Day added: “As Democrats, we advocate for equal opportunity and equality. Poor women don’t want money for abortions; they want the same opportunities to parent as their rich counterparts.
“We believe the Democratic 2020 candidates should move the debate from abortion access to how are we going to provide low-income women with the same opportunities and a real choice.”
The Hyde Amendment, named for its chief sponsor, the late Henry Hyde, a Republican House member from Illinois, was first signed into law in 1976 with the support of almost half of the Democratic legislators in the U.S. Congress. It bars the use of federal funds for abortion except in cases of incest, rape or to save the life of the mother. Attempts to make the ongoing amendment’s prohibitions permanent have failed. Mr. Biden has long been a supporter of the once-bipartisan amendment.
After controversy similarly erupted in 2017 when Tom Perez, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, suggested that Democratic candidates who do not support abortion rights would not be eligible for support from the party, senior Democrats like Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California and even candidate Sanders, insisted there was room in the party for members with pro-life views. That was also the position that Mr. Biden endorsed himself as vice president in an interview with America in 2015.
Mr. Biden has said in the past he personally agrees with the church’s opposition to abortion but does not think the government should impose his views on others. After the Supreme Court decided the Roe v. Wade case, he originally worried the decision “went too far,” though he later became a staunch defender of it.
“I’ve stuck to my middle-of-the-road position on abortion for more than 30 years," he wrote in his 2007 book Promises to Keep. “I still vote against partial birth abortion and federal funding, and I’d like to make it easier for scared young mothers to choose not to have an abortion, but I will also vote against a constitutional amendment that strips a woman of her right to make her own choice.”
With reporting from The Associated Press