While former Vice President Joe Biden’s official position on abortion, in general, hasn’t changed, his views on whether government money should be used to fund the procedure seem to have taken a winding road this week.
What is the Hyde Amendment?
The issue at hand is what is known as the “Hyde Amendment,” named after Republican Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois, enacted a ban on federal money used to pay for abortions except in the event to save the life of the mother. The legislation was originally passed in 1976 as the result of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed a budget appropriations bill which contained a new version of the Hyde Amendment that expanded the category of abortions for which federal funds are available under Medicaid to include cases of rape and incest, beyond the original limitation of saving the life of the mother.
Many Democrats signed on to the legislation in ’76 and ’93 since it was seen as a compromise which would keep taxpayers, many of whom were vehemently pro-life, from being forced to have their tax dollars used to perform a procedure they felt was immoral.
By 2016, however, the Hyde Amendment has become a problem for Democrats who, for the first time, added abolition of the Hyde Amendment into their official party platform.
Biden reiterates support for abortion funding ban
This is where Biden comes in and his statement earlier this week in which his campaign re-iterated his support for the Hyde Amendment, a position Biden has long held:
Presidential front-runner Joe Biden faced swift and fierce backlash from fellow Democrats Wednesday after his campaign confirmed that he supports a four-decade-old ban on federal funding for abortion that much of his party has vowed to overturn.
Biden’s support of the Hyde Amendment, which is renewed annually through congressional spending bills, underscores a generational and cultural divide that’s separating the former vice president from the rest of the 2020 Democratic field.
“The Hyde Amendment does not prevent organizations in the U.S. that provide lifesaving health care services for women from receiving the federal funding they need,” Biden’s campaign told POLITICO. “But given the current draconian attempts to limit access to abortion, if avenues for women to access their protected rights under Roe V Wade are closed, he would be open to repeal.”
Well, that was Wednesday earlier this week. According to Biden’s campaign, his position on the Hyde Amendment hasn’t changed. The former vice president still supports the ban on federal funding to pay for abortions.
The condemnation for Biden’s Hyde Amendment support among pro-choice activist groups was quick and sweeping:
There’s NO political or ideological excuse for @JoeBiden’s support for the Hyde Amendment, which translates into discrimination against poor women and women of color plain and simple. His position further endangers people already facing enormous hurdles. https://t.co/3jDleIq077
— NARAL (@NARAL) June 5, 2019
Luckily for NARAL, things can change quickly on the campaign trail.
Biden renounces support for abortion funding ban
Following the backlash, Biden’s position seemed to change almost overnight. Many news outlets are calling his position a “reversal” which is a generous way of avoiding the term “flip-flop,” something that has plagued certain Democratic presidential candidates of the past.
Politico reports on the new position Biden holds with regard to the Hyde Amendment:
He made the surprise announcement at the start of a speech during the Democratic National Committee’s gala in Atlanta, which was devoted more to voting rights and minority empowerment than abortion.
“I can’t justify leaving millions of women without access to the care they need and the ability to exercise their constitutionally protected right,” Biden said Thursday. “If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s ZIP code.”
Biden, however, did indicate that he would not support taxpayer funding for abortion if it became more readily available for women in need, particularly women who live in poverty.
Biden’s clear cover for the policy change comes by citing abortion legislation passed in several Republican-controlled states, such as Alabama in particular, which amount to outright bans on the procedure under any circumstance. Based on these changing circumstances, Biden now feels that the central tenets of Roe v. Wade are under attack, and he can no longer support his prior position on Hyde, according to his statement.
Biden’s “evolution” on the subject coincides with the abortion debate heating up ahead of the 2020 election as the issue inevitably makes it’s way back to the Supreme Court in some form.