The bare minimum support for abortion rights for a Democratic presidential candidate in 2020 is a pledge to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which has banned federal funding for abortions since 1977. It appears that frontrunner Joe Biden, who voted for that amendment back in 1977, can’t make up his mind on whether or not that’s a good thing.
NBC News published a history of Biden’s views on abortion rights this morning, and points out that early in his career, the former Delaware senator was something of an anti-abortion zealot who supported measures as extreme as the one Alabama recently passed. Per NBC News:
As a U.S. senator from Delaware, Biden voted against a 1977 compromise that allowed Medicaid to fund abortions that included exceptions for victims of rape and incest in addition to concerns for the life of the mother. While the rape and incest exceptions passed in that case, Biden voted in 1981 to again remove them, in what was the most far-reaching ban on federal funds ever enacted by Congress.
Biden also voted several times, including in 1983, to prohibit federal workers from using health insurance on abortion services, with the only exception being to save the life of the mother.
In that 1981 vote, he was one of just two Democratic senators from the Northeast, the other being George Mitchell of Maine, to vote to end federal funding for abortion for victims of rape and incest. Fellow Catholics Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York as well as Democrats from other blue-leaning Northeastern states supported the exceptions. Biden voted in line with conservative Republicans like Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Democrats from red states like Robert Byrd of West Virginia.
As Senate Judiciary Committee chair in the 1980s and early 1990s, Biden also oversaw the confirmation of anti-abortion crusader Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, and defended Thomas in September 1991 from pro-choice groups who charged that he would overturn Roe v. Wade. After the National Abortion Rights Action League uncovered a 1987 speech where Thomas had praised an anti-abortion article, Biden said that to cite the speech as proof of Thomas’ opposition to abortion was a “failure of logic” and said that he “did not find anywhere in the record where [Thomas] evidenced extreme views.” (Biden ultimately voted against Thomas’ confirmation.)
Thomas is now perhaps the most conservative justice on the Supreme Court, and a rock solid anti-abortion vote. In a recent opinion, he compared both abortion and birth control to eugenics.
Biden has steadily become more pro-choice throughout his career, and early last month in South Carolina, the former vice president was asked by an ACLU volunteer if he supported finally repealing the Hyde Amendment. Biden said yes—“It can’t stay”—a response that was posted by the official ACLU national Twitter account.
Finally! The only problem is that the campaign has now backtracked from this position. Per NBC News, emphasis mine:
Yet his presidential campaign confirmed to NBC News that Biden still supports the Hyde Amendment, a four-decade-old ban on using federal funds for abortion services, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman.
Biden’s continued support for Hyde not only sets him apart from the rest of his 2020 Democratic competitors, but it may surprise progressive groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, which promoted a recent tweet by one of its activists appearing to get Biden to commit to ending Hyde during a rope-line exchange in South Carolina. Biden’s campaign told NBC he would be open to repealing Hyde if abortion avenues currently protected under Roe were threatened.
Planned Parenthood slammed the position in a statement to NBC News. “We encourage any candidate who doesn’t recognize Hyde’s impact to speak to the women it hurts most—particularly on women of color and women with low incomes—to learn more about the harmful impacts of this discriminatory policy,” Planned Parenthood Action Fund executive director Kelly Robinson told the network.
We’ve reached out to both the ACLU and Biden’s campaign for comment, and will update if we receive a response.