Biden Reverses Himself, Again, on Amendment Restricting Taxpayer Funding For Abortion

Patrick Goodenough | June 7, 2019 | 4:52am EDT
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Former vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at Thursday night’s DNC event in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Dustin Chambers/Getty Images)

( – Twenty-four hours after Joe Biden’s campaign gave assurances that he still supports a 43-year-old prohibition on federal funding for certain abortions, the former vice president announced Thursday night – after taking flak from other 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls – that he no longer does.

In doing so, he echoed talking points raised by rivals in the race, who argued that the Hyde Amendment – which prohibits federal funding of abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is endangered – hurts poor women the most.

Biden’s shift means that none of the more than 20 Democrats running for the White House publicly supports an amendment whose repeal was included for the first time in their party’s platform as recently as 2016.

Speaking at a Democratic National Committee “I Will Vote Gala” in Atlanta, Ga., Biden characterized his change of mind as a response to the passage of “extreme laws” restricting abortion.

“It’s clear that these folks are going to stop at nothing to get rid of Roe [v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion] and it’s clear to me that we have to be just as strong in defending it,” he said.

Biden said he had long supported the Hyde Amendment, “like many, many others have, because there was sufficient monies and circumstances where women were able to exercise that right – women of color, poor women.”

That right had not been “not under attack” then, “as it is now,” he said. “Circumstances have changed.”

“We now see so many Republican governors denying health care to millions of the poorest and most vulnerable Americans by refusing even Medicaid expansion,” Biden continued.

“I can't justify leaving millions of women without access to the care they need and the ability to constitu – to exercise their constitutionally protected right.”

“If I believe healthcare is a right – as I do – I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s zip code.”

Earlier, former Texas Rep. “Beto” O’Rourke said Biden’s support for the Hyde Amendment was wrong.

“We’ve got to make sure than when we’re talking about universal, guaranteed, high-quality healthcare we’re talking about a woman’s right, and every woman’s right, no matter their income or zip code, to make their own decisions about their own bodies,” O’Rourke told CBS News.

“I hope that Joe Biden rethinks his position on this issue,” he added. “Perhaps he doesn’t have all the facts, perhaps he doesn’t understand who the Hyde Amendment hurts most.”

‘It can’t stay’

Biden’s announcement came after a few weeks of uncertainty over his stance:

May 8: The American Civil Liberties Union posts a video clip, dated May 4, in which Biden responds in Columbia, S.C. to an ACLU volunteer’s question about repealing the Hyde Amendment by saying that “it can’t stay.”

May 19: The clip starts to get more attention after being referred to in a Washington Post article.

June 5: The Biden campaign tells outlets including NBC News that he still supports the Hyde Amendment. It says he misheard the ACLU volunteer, and thought she was referring to the Mexico City Policy. (That Reagan-era policy, strengthened by the Trump administration, targets funding for non-governmental organizations that promote or perform abortions abroad.)

June 5-6: Biden’s position draws criticism and expressions of opposition to the Hyde Amendment from other Democrats in the 2020 race, including O’Rourke and Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kirstin Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders. NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood president Leana Wen also weighed in.

June 6: Biden announces his new stance in Atlanta.

A 2016 Politico/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health survey found that voters opposed Medicaid funding of abortion by 58 percent to 36 percent – and that lower-earning voters were even less likely than higher earners to support taxpayer funding of abortion.

It found that “voters making more than $75,000 were more supportive of using Medicaid funds for abortion services (45% favor) than those making $25,000 or less (24% favor).”

A new PAC was established earlier this year with the aim of getting a pro-life Democrat to enter the 2020 race, joining what it calls “a large, fractured field of candidates who (so far) all support the party’s ever more extreme abortion plank.”

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