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.