Back in 1994, then-Senator Joe Biden wrote a letter to a constituent who had contacted his office with a request. “Please don’t force me to pay for abortions against my conscience,” he said. Biden assured the man he understood, promising that any position he would take on abortion in the U.S. Senate would be guided by his conviction that those who oppose abortion should not be compelled to pay for them. That was 25 years ago, but Biden’s campaign indicated that he continues to hold the position today, confirming that the former vice president — unlike the majority of his rivals for the 2020 nomination — does not support repealing the Hyde Amendment, despite a recent remark to the contrary.
NBC News unearthed that 1994 letter, along with a number of stridently anti-abortion comments and votes by Biden over the course of his political career. Considered today, as states around the country are locked in an arms race to implement the most punitive anti-abortion laws possible, the Democratic frontrunner’s vote in support of a constitutional amendment that would have allowed states to overturn Roe v. Wade is particularly noteworthy.
In ’94 Biden boasted to have voted against federal funding for abortion “on no fewer than 50 occasions;” among those was a vote in 1977 against allowing Medicaid to pay for abortions for victims of rape and incest. When that bill succeeded anyway, Biden voted to remove the exceptions again in a separate bill, passed in 1981, that NBC calls “the most far-reaching ban on federal funds ever enacted by Congress.” That same year, Biden supported the constitutional amendment empowering states to overturn Roe. Two years later, in 1983, Biden opposed allowing insurers to cover all abortions for federal employees, except if the mother’s life was at-risk.
The most surprising revelation in the NBC News report, though, was the news that Biden continues, to this day, to support the Hyde Amendment — a ban on federal funding for abortion except in the cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life is threatened. It is particularly significant considering the former vice president publicly took the opposite position just last month. “Yes,” Biden replied on May 4th when asked directly by a volunteer with the ACLU whether he would commit to abolishing the Hyde Amendment while in Columbia, South Carolina. “Right now it has to be,” he said. “It can’t stay.”
The NBC report provoked a swift response from Biden’s 2020 male rivals — Bernie Sanders, Jay Inslee, Beto O’Rourke, Eric Swalwell, Julián Castro, Tim Ryan, and Bill de Blasio all rushed to affirm their commitment to repealing Hyde. The position of all four female senators in the race — Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren — was already well-documented; all four are co-sponsors of a bill to repeal Hyde. Their positions are aligned with the Democratic party platform, which explicitly calls for the repealing the amendment, describing it as impeding access to abortion.
“There’s no political or ideological excuse for Joe Biden’s support for the Hyde Amendment, which translates into discrimination against poor women and women of color plain and simple,” Ilyse Hogue, president of pro-choice group NARAL, said in a statement. “His position further endangers women and families already facing enormous hurdles and creates two classes of rights for people in this country, which is inherently undemocratic.”
Those thoughts were echoed by Warren, the most vocal Biden antagonist in the Democratic primary, who told a gaggle of reporters Wednesday that she did not believe the Democratic nominee could hold Biden’s position on Hyde. “It’s not about the politics, it’s about whats right,” Warren said. “The Hyde Amendment should not be American law.”
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