Joe Biden Comes Out Against Hyde Amendment

After coming under attack from within his own party, former Vice-President Joe Biden has changed his position on the Hyde Amendment.

It was just yesterday that I noted that former Vice-President Joe Biden’s long history of support for the Hyde Amendment, which bans Federal funds from being spent on abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. As I noted, Biden’s position is one that stood out among this year’s crop of Presidential candidates and was quickly becoming a point of attack for the candidates trailing Biden in the polls. Late yesterday, though, that all changed and Biden now says he opposed to the Amendment:

After two days of intense criticism, Joseph R. Biden Jr. reversed himself Thursday night on one of the issues most important to Democratic voters, saying he no longer supports a measure that bans federal funding for most abortions.

As recently as Wednesday, Mr. Biden’s campaign had said he supported the measure, known as the Hyde Amendment. His decision to change positions illustrates the intense pressure he faces as the presumed front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president.

His turnaround was abrupt, particularly because Mr. Biden has grappled for decades with his views on abortion rights. While he has said he supports Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal nationwide, he has opposed members of his own party on a number of abortion measures, ascribing his reluctance to his Roman Catholic faith.

In a speech at a gala hosted by the Democratic National Committee in Atlanta on Thursday night, Mr. Biden credited the change, in part, to recent efforts by Republicans to roll back abortion access in states including Georgia and across the country — especially in the South — calling them “extreme laws.”

“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,” Mr. Biden said.

The former vice president, who generally resists expressing contrition for the views he held in the past, noted that he made “no apologies for the last position.”

Mr. Biden has been criticized for other pieces of his long political record.

As a senator from Delaware he led the Judiciary Committee that subjected Anita Hill to harsh questioning when she accused Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991, and he was a sponsor of the 1994 crime bill, which many Democrats now say increased mass incarceration.

“I’ve been working through the finer details of my health care plan like others in this race, and I’ve been struggling with the problems that Hyde now presents,” Mr. Biden said.

He suggested that the amendment stands in the way of his goals of “universal coverage” and providing the “full range of health services women need,” when in many states the ability to gain access to abortion coverage through other means — Planned Parenthood clinics, for example — is being curtailed.

“Folks, times have changed,” he said. “I don’t think these guys are going to let up.”

As noted, the Amendment was first passed into law in 1976 when Biden was still in his first term as Senator and has been reaffirmed in Federal law every year since then. While the list of exceptions has changed somewhat over time, the Amendment basically bans the Federal Government from spending money on abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or threat to the life of the mother. In addition to impacting things such as foreign aid, which is also covered by the so-called Mexico City Rule, which bars Federal funding to any non-governmental organization that spends money on abortion counseling or referrals, advocates to decriminalize abortion, or to expand abortion services overseas, the Amendment also bars programs such as Medicaid from being spent on abortion except in the above-referenced circumstances.

While the Amendment has long been a part of Federal law and at least at one time was strongly supported by most Democrats, it has come under increasing criticism from the left. In some cases, the criticism is rooted primarily in its impact on Medicaid and the fact that it means that poor women thus find it harder to get an abortion simply because they cannot afford it. The Amendment has also come under fire due to its impact on the idea of universal health care coverage, which has become something of a Democratic article of faith ever since the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Whatever the reason, though, Biden’s continued support for the Amendment, which he had reiterated several times in recent years, meant that he stood nearly alone in the party, and certainly alone among the 2020 candidates, in continuing to support the Amendment.

Taking all of that, it was I suppose inevitable that Biden would change his position on the issue. In doing so, though, he leaves himself open to the argument that he is apt to change political positions to please the audience he is addressing. It also draws attention to other things in Biden’s more than thirty-year long career in Senate that are likely to cause controversy today, such as his support for the anti-crime bill passed in 1994 that has come under increasing criticism inside the Democratic Party in recent years as well as his role as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearings for Justice Clarence Thomas. While Democrats are not likely to punish Biden for changing his mind, the ease with which he changed a position he has held since 1976 does leave him open to the charge that he shifts positions based on the political winds. Whether that will hurt him with primary voters remains to be seen. Whether that will hurt him with primary voters remains to be seen.

Most likely, Democrats will be pleased to have Biden on board on this issue, and it deprives his opponents of a potential line of attack in the upcoming debates, although there are legitimate questions about why and when he changed his position. In the end, though, my assessment is that the people who are going to be most likely to hold this against Biden are people who would never vote for him anyway.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Gender Issues, Health, Joe Biden, Politicians, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Teve says:

    Jess Dweck
    @TheDweck

    Biden’s campaign is such a giant disaster I’m surprised Elizabeth Warren doesn’t have a plan to fix it

    4:03 AM · Jun 7, 2019 · Twitter for iPhone

    Don Jenver
    @TJECS206
    ·

    she’s only got plans to save things worth saving.

  2. Kathy says:

    In doing so, though, he leaves himself open to the argument that he is apt to change political positions to please the audience he is addressing.

    Does that not describe like 100.2% of all politicians?

    BTW, to Mr. Biden, one can be against abortion and pro-choice. How? If you’re against abortion, then don’t have one. Also do the best you can to avoid the need to consider having one. And let others decide for themselves what is best for them.

  3. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Insert Dr. Jekyll joke here…

  4. @Kathy:

    If you’re against abortion, then don’t have one. Also do the best you can to avoid the need to consider having one. And let others decide for themselves what is best for them.

    That’s basically my position.

    It’s an issue between the woman and her health care providers. It’s not the business of any other individual and it isn’t the government’s business.

  5. KM says:

    @Kathy:
    Indeed. One can even actively advance the notion that we should be trying to eliminate the need for them as a society via social changes and support and still be considered pro-choice. That’s something the forced-birthers can’t understand – just because you support the notion women have control over their bodies doesn’t mean you agree with the choices they might make with them.

    Hyde is the government essentially telling women that if you are poor or have government health insurance, they get to decide your choices for you. It’s discrimination passed off as morality. Plenty of things get government money you might not personally agree with or support so why should this be any different?

    Biden recognizing the inherent hypocrisy of Hyde’s “logic” would have been a good start but this feels more like a Romney-flop then a genuine change of position. It’s more evidence he intends to be the get-along type with the people who want to drag us all to the bottom.

  6. JohnMcC says:

    Got a promotion once, and shortly thereafter got a desk-plaque that said:

    Which way did they go?!
    How many of them were there?!
    Where were they going?!
    I MUST find them….
    I am their LEADER.

  7. Hal_10000 says:

    @Kathy:

    BTW, to Mr. Biden, one can be against abortion and pro-choice.

    I’m not so sure that’s true anymore. At least not in the fever swamp that is today’s politics. There was a popular tweet the other day that described Tim Kaine — 100% rating from NARAL and 0% from Pro Life — as “pro life” because he has frequently expressed his personal opposition to abortion. And I’ve been hearing more and more rumblings that it’s no longer enough to think abortion should be legal; you have to think it’s a good thing. The days when the Democratic party could have a position of “safe, legal and rare” are behind us.

    The cons are no better, of course. I’m in the “personally opposed by should be legal” category and have been getting more and more flack about how I’ve taken a neutral position on murder.

    I’m surprised at how suddenly the forty-year truce on this issue has broken down. Both parties are moving toward positions — complete ban from GOP, legal with public funding through third trimester from Dems — which are only held by about 15% of the public. And I fear repealing the Hyde Amendment will only intensify that fight.

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  8. KM says:

    @Hal_10000:

    The days when the Democratic party could have a position of “safe, legal and rare” are behind us.

    That’s mostly because, like DADA, it’s logic is based on a “compromise” that’s really just another type of restriction. After all, why does “rare” need to be in there other then to virtue signal it’s still a “bad” thing? It’s still placing a moral judgement on the action. It’s still stating that this legal thing you just agreed to should be limited in some fashion because you disapprove of it. It’s not really up to you if it’s 10 a day or 10,000. Phrasing matters and more and more the “rare” is getting singled out for questioning the intent behind it.

    A better phrasing would be “Promoting support so choices can be made”. Many folks like myself that have a personal objection are in favor of governmental and social changes to give women (and men!) the support they need to make a choice they feel comfortable with. Universal and free BC, decent sex ed for children of all ages, free child care or government funding for it, universal paid maternity and paternity leave, reasonable healthcare for mothers and children, etc – all these will go a LONG way to bringing down abortion rates. That’s what we should be running on – emphasis on the offerings and not “making it rare” even if that’s what it’s doing.

    I’m surprised at how suddenly the forty-year truce on this issue has broken down.

    Yeah, when one side starts torching the place, truces tend to go out the window. That’s was a truce *is* – an agreement to stop fighting. There’s no such thing as a one-sided truce, only people standing there clutching a now-worthless agreement as their world burns. This is another example of Dems being expected to be steadfast in old norms and behaviors that *clearly* don’t apply anymore.

    If they’re gonna go after Roe – which they very obviously are – then anything else based on it is fair game. These idiots don’t understand that by pushing the limits, they might lose ground they already have. It happened to them with DADA, it happened with SSM and it’s happening with this and “religious objections”. They keep pushing to their detriment.

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  9. Modulo Myself says:

    Not sure why this is a surprise. Being pro-choice but against abortion is pretty empty and/or offensive when faced with the stories of women who have had abortions for indefensible reasons. It’s a position that existed when women were far less free to talk about their lives.

    Overall, I think Biden’s appeal is that he’s a bridge between generations. What he’s offering is change without pointing fingers at policies that seem either soulless or wrong now.

  10. Moosebreath says:

    @Hal_10000:

    “The days when the Democratic party could have a position of “safe, legal and rare” are behind us.”

    The rare part always meant taking actions to reduce the need for abortions, such as keeping contraceptives readily available (contra the position taken by Republicans to make contraceptives as difficult to obtain as possible). I suspect that those actions would still garner the support of the vast majority of Democrats.

  11. Teve says:

    @KM:

    Yeah, when one side starts torching the place, truces tend to go out the window.

    GOP legislators in the South have passed abortion restrictions more severe than those of Saudi Arabia. If somebody expects Democrats to stand around equivocating and pretending like it’s 2006, well, bless their heart.

  12. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Several writers on both sides of the debate(Like Michele Goldberg or Jonathan Last) have admitted that a compromise where there is wide and free abortion until three months with a complete ban for anything that’s not strictly medically related after that is OK for them.

    The problem is that abortion is a good fodder for culture wars, on both sides of the political spectrum.

  13. DrDaveT says:

    While Democrats are not likely to punish Biden for changing his mind, the ease with which he changed a position he has held since 1976 does leave him open to the charge that he shifts positions based on the political winds.

    Everyone gets one change of mind; only unreasonable people never get convinced that they were wrong.

    It’s when you have more than one change of mind on the same issue that people can legitimately wonder whether you either have no actual personal beliefs, or are too easily persuaded to be a useful leader.

  14. An Interested Party says:

    Universal and free BC, decent sex ed for children of all ages, free child care or government funding for it, universal paid maternity and paternity leave, reasonable healthcare for mothers and children, etc – all these will go a LONG way to bringing down abortion rates.

    Of course most Republicans could never get onboard for these things, as they offend either one or both of the two main groups (the plutocrats and the evangelicals) the GOP is so beholden to…

  15. Eric Florack says:

    Impossible to get a consistent position out of any Democrat at all, much less over 40 years. But this one didn’t even last 40 hours.

    the tragedy here is not the perception that Joe Biden is the best candidate the Democrats have, it’s that the perception is the correct one.

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  16. Tyrell says:

    @Teve: If she could work on the Federal Reserve.

  17. Tyrell says:

    @Modulo Myself: But a person can be pro-life but against the government traipsing around the halls of the hospitals and making the decisions .

  18. Tyrell says:

    @JohnMcC: How about this: “going through the proper channels is for officers who lack initiative” (German Field Marshall Von Rundstedt)