In what may be his first major move to the left on policy as a 2020 presidential candidate, Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden has endorsed repealing the Hyde amendment, a measure that prohibits federal funding of abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is endangered.
“It can’t stay,” Biden said of the Hyde amendment during an exchange with an ACLU activist earlier this month. The video of the exchange was posted by the ACLU on Twitter on May 8th but has drawn little attention since then (it was flagged by Washington Post reporter David Weigel on Sunday evening).
Our volunteer Nina asked Joe Biden whether, as president, he would lift the Hyde amendment, which bans federal insurance coverage of abortion.
— ACLU (@ACLU) May 8, 2019
It’s not clear when or why Biden changed his mind on the issue.
“I will continue to abide by the same principle that has guided me throughout my 21 years in the Senate: those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them,” Biden wrote to a constituent in 1994. “As you may know, I have consistently — on no fewer than 50 occasions — voted against federal funding of abortions.”
“I’ve stuck to my middle-of-the-road position on abortion for more than 30 years,” Biden wrote in his 2007 book Promises to Keep. “I still vote against partial birth abortion and federal funding.”
A few weeks before Biden launched his 2020 presidential campaign, his spokesman declined to tell the New York Times if he still opposed federal funding of elective abortions. Now we know.
Biden’s reversal puts him more in line with the majority of Democratic primary voters, but it could undermine the argument that he’s the most electable Democratic candidate because of his relative moderation. “Biden is making a critical error flip-flopping on his position on the Hyde Amendment,” Kristen Day, the executive director of Democrats for Life, tells National Review in an email. “Among the current top-tier candidates, there is not a single one who is considering pro-life Democratic voters. Vice President Biden could have filled that void with a more moderate position. Instead, he is catering to the vocal minority who is pushing an abortion extremist agenda that will not resonate with general election voters.” A poll of likely voters conducted for Politico and Harvard’s school of public health found that in October 2016 voters opposed Medicaid funding of abortion by a 22-point margin (58 percent to 36 percent).
Although most previous Democratic presidential candidates have opposed the Hyde amendment, they have typically tried to avoid drawing attention to their opposition. It wasn’t until 2016 that the Democratic National Convention’s platform explicitly called for repealing the measure. West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, one of the few pro-life Democrats remaining in Congress, called that plank of his party’s 2016 platform “crazy.”
First enacted by Congress in 1976, just three years after Roe v. Wade, the Hyde amendment has been attached each year since then to legislation funding Medicaid (and several other federal health-care programs) regardless of which party controlled Congress and the White House. “Since 1976, the best research indicates that the Hyde Amendment has saved over two million unborn children,” according to the Charlotte Lozier Institute.