Yesterday Joe Biden bucked the Democratic orthodoxy on abortion by defending the Hyde Amendment, the law which prohibits federal (i.e. taxpayer) funds from paying for abortions. Biden’s confusing stance on the amendment, which was first passed in 1976 and has been renewed annually ever since, opens questions about the candidate’s thought process and puts him at odds with the extreme pro-abortion faction of the Democratic Party. Support for the amendment was historically bipartisan until Hillary Clinton called for its repeal in 2016.
Biden’s campaign expressed support for the Hyde Amendment to NBC
News in an article published on June 5. The piece noted that while in the
Senate Biden consistently voted against federal funding for abortions, even for
victims of rape and incest.
Biden explained his position to a constituent in 1994, writing,
“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. As you may know, I have consistently — on no
fewer than 50 occasions — voted against federal funding of abortions.”
In 2007, Biden wrote in his book, Promises To Keep, “I’ve stuck to my middle-of-the-road position on
abortion for more than 30 years. I still vote against partial birth abortion
and federal funding.”
Yet in May of this year, when Biden was confronted by an
ACLU activist who asked him if he would repeal the Hyde Amendment, Biden
answered, “Right now it has to be… It can’t stay.”
The Biden campaign subsequently told The
Hill that Biden misheard the question and thought that the activist was
referring to the Mexico City policy, which prohibits federal funds from going
to foreign groups that perform abortions.
The Hill quotes a response from the Biden campaign that said,
“He supports the repeal of the Mexico City rule because it prevents critical
aid from going to organizations even if abortion is a very small fraction of
the work they are doing. He has not at this point changed his position on the
The reversal is curious because it seems that it would have
been difficult to misunderstand the activist, who was very close to the
candidate, and the two policies sound nothing alike. It raises the possibility
that Biden did not remember what the Hyde Amendment was or his longtime opposition
Interestingly, it would have been politically easier for
Biden to let his statement supporting repeal of the policy stand than to walk
it back. He seems to be the only Democratic candidate who supports maintaining
the amendment. His position will put a target on his back for radical
pro-abortion activists who seem to resist
any limits on abortion rights.
Support for the Hyde Amendment does not mean that Biden is
pro-life, however. He supports Roe v.
Wade even though he is a Roman Catholic who claims to be personally opposed
to abortion. Jamal Brown, Biden’s press secretary, told NBC that the candidate
believed that Roe was wrongly decided
when he was first elected to the Senate, but now “firmly believes that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land and
should not be overturned.” Brown pointed to Biden’s pro-abortion record that included
blocking measures to criminalize abortion and voting against justices such as Bork,
Roberts, Alito, and Thomas.
Biden’s mixed record on abortion may turn out to be a
blessing. Polling shows that Americans are closely divided on abortion with very few supporting
either an outright ban or abortion on demand without restrictions. A Marist
poll from earlier this year showed that even a third of Democrats identify
as pro-life. Biden’s middle-of-the-road views on abortion may actually be more
in line with the majority opinion of most voters than either the radicals to
his left or the Republicans to his right.
I’ve long suspected that Biden would secure the Democratic
nomination in a manner similar to how Donald Trump won the GOP nomination in
2016. So far, that prediction seems to be holding true. Biden is claiming the moderate
niche, which few other Democrats have targeted, while the plethora of candidates
to his left fight over fractions of the radical leftist bloc.
Nevertheless, Biden’s response to the ACLU activist and
subsequent reversal represent a dangerous gaffe for his campaign. The very
public reversal drew attention to his pro-Hyde Amendment position and gave rise
to questions about why the candidate would agree to repeal a policy that he has
supported for decades.