On Wednesday, Joe Biden, the frontrunner for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination, as reported by The New York Times, surprised many political observers by announcing his support for the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment, which is an annual rider to the HHS-Labor appropriations bill, limits the ability of federal Medicaid dollars to fund elective abortions. Though a number of Democrats have supported the Hyde Amendment in the past, it has become increasingly controversial within the Democratic Party in recent years. In 2016, for the first time, the Democratic Party’s Presidential platform actually called for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment. Furthermore, Biden’s statement, which was reportedly confirmed by his campaign, is an apparent contradiction to his remarks to an ACLU volunteer in May.
Even though many Democratic elected officials oppose the Hyde Amendment, it still enjoys substantial public support. Separate polls by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and YouGov in 2016 both found that over 55 percent of Americans support the Hwayde Amendment. Interestingly, the YouGov poll found that self-identified Democrats were fairly evenly split on the issue. Additionally, even polls from politically liberal states like Maine show majorities of voters oppose taxpayer funding of elective abortions. Furthermore, the Hyde Amendment has been good policy. A substantial body of academic research shows that cutting taxpayer funding for abortion reduces abortion rates, and my 2016 Lozier Institute study found that the Hyde Amendment has saved over 2 million lives since 1976.
It's possible former Vice President Biden will be the only Democratic Presidential candidate who supports the Hyde Amendment. This might increase his appeal to moderates in the Democratic Party. Furthermore, support for the Hyde Amendment would almost certainly prove advantageous during the general election. That said, we are over eight months away from the 2020 New Hampshire primary. And by supporting the Hyde Amendment, Biden has opened himself up to criticism from his more liberal primary opponents on a highly salient issue which is very important to many Democratic voters, activists, and donors.
The Hyde Amendment will be a key issue for pro-lifers moving forward, and the question of whether Presidential candidates – both Democrat and Republican – have pledged to veto future appropriations bills without Hyde protections also looms as a salient issue. Moreover, 180 Democratic Congressman reportedly support repealing the Hyde Amendment. But considering that the Hyde Amendment is one of the most effective pieces of pro-life legislation – saving thousands of unborn lives every year – lawmakers would do well to make sure its protections continue to remain in place.
Michael J. New is a Visiting Assistant Professor at The Catholic University of America and an Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.