Joe Biden Reverses Stance, Says He No Longer Supports Ban on Federal Funds for Abortions

June 7, 2019 Updated: June 7, 2019

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said on June 6 that he no longer supports a long-standing congressional ban on the use of federal healthcare money for most abortions—legislation he had confirmed he was in favor of just a day before.

The Hyde Amendment was passed in 1976, more than two years after the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, to prohibit the use of federal funds to pay for abortion services, with exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or when there is a threat to the woman’s life.

On late June 6, Biden told a crowd at a Democratic Party fundraiser in Atlanta that he had changed his mind and would no longer support the Hyde Amendment because of recent abortion bans in select states.

“If I believe healthcare is a right, as I do, I can longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s zip code,” Biden said.

But on the previous day, June 5, Biden’s campaign had told Politico that he still supported the Hyde Amendment but would be open to repealing Hyde “if avenues for women to access their protected rights under Roe v. Wade are closed.”

On June 6, Biden explained that as a Roman Catholic, he had in 1976 voted to support the Hyde Amendment as a senator because he believed that those who were pro-life shouldn’t be compelled to pay abortions sought by others, and that women would still have access to abortion even without Medicaid insurance and other federal healthcare grants, The Associated Press reported.

It was part of what Biden has described as a “middle ground” on abortion.

Biden’s support for the Hyde Amendment had put him out of step with most of his Democratic presidential rivals, including Beto O’Rourke and Elizabeth Warren who had criticized his support for Hyde just this week.

Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups had also publicly criticized the former vice president for his stance on Hyde.

Repealing Hyde has become a defining standard for Democrats in recent years, making what was once a common position among moderate Democrats more untenable. This has become especially so of late, as seen in the dynamics of the 2020 Democratic primary race.

At its 2016 convention, the party included a call for repealing Hyde in the Democratic platform, doing so at the urging of nominee Hillary Clinton.

The Associated Press reported early on June 7 that, according to a senior Biden campaign official speaking on condition of anonymity, some aides were surprised at the speed at which the 76-year-old had changed his stance, given his long history of explaining his abortion positions in terms of his faith.

But following internal conversations, the aides realized that as a front-runner in the primary race, the attacks weren’t going to let up, it was leaked. It was reasoned by the campaign that the fallout within the Democratic primary outweighed any long-term benefit of Biden maintaining his support for Hyde.

States Recognize Heartbeat

Abortion has re-emerged as a central national issue in recent weeks after nine states passed laws that restrict or ban abortions. The latest bans are not yet in effect.

Louisiana on May 30 signed a heartbeat bill into law, which would make it unlawful to carry out an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. It joins four other states—Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio—in supporting such a bill. In Kentucky and Mississippi, the laws were blocked by federal judges.

Missouri had a bill signed into law on May 24 that would punish doctors who abort pre-born children after eight weeks. It includes exceptions for cases in which the life of the mother is in danger, but makes no exception for cases in which a child was conceived as a result of rape or incest.

Alabama on May 15 signed into law a bill that outlaws all abortions, except in cases when the pregnancy puts the prospective mother’s life at risk. The Alabama law took aim at the core issue of whether an unborn child can be considered a person, as discussed in the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973 (pdf).

Meanwhile, Utah and Arkansas have enacted bans on abortion after 18 weeks gestation, with some exceptions.

The abortion ban laws are part of a pro-life movement to challenge Roe v. Wade. Only Alabama’s bill is specifically designed to challenge Roe v. Wade. None of the bills passed this year would punish the mother. Only abortionists would face criminal charges.

Most other states follow the standard set by the Roe v. Wade decision, which prohibits states from banning abortions prior to when the fetus is deemed “viable”—that is, potentially able to live outside its mother’s womb—deemed usually at 24-28 weeks.

Roe v. Wade

In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court said that if unborn children are persons, then they have the right to life. The ruling determined that unborn children are not persons, but acknowledged that the case to prohibit states from banning abortions would “collapse” if “the fetus is a person,” because then its “right to life would then be guaranteed” by the Constitution.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Mimi on Twitter: @MimiNguyenLy
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