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What It Means Now That Joe Biden Completely Reversed Decades-Old Stance on Hyde Amendment


Former Vice President Joe Biden is making headlines over his shocking change of position on the Hyde Amendment. After decades of supporting the law, Biden suddenly joined Democrats demanding its repeal.

The Hyde Amendment was part of a 1976 appropriations bill for what’s now called the Department of Health and Human Services. Every year, that bill and its corresponding funding gets renewed. The Hyde Amendment bans federal funding from being used for most abortions. In other words, Medicaid won’t pay for abortions unless the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

For decades, Hyde has embodied the go-to moderate take on abortion: the government should stay out of it, but no one’s tax dollars should be used to fund someone else’s abortion. Indeed, in 1986, then-Sen. Joe Biden said the following:

If it’s not government’s business, then you have to accept the whole of that concept, which means you don’t proscribe your right to have an abortion and you don’t take your money to assist someone else to have an abortion.

Thirty years-plus later, though, Hyde doesn’t seem nearly as Solomon-esque. 2019 America (or at least a large part of it) understands that restrictions on abortion funding disproportionately affects the poor and women of color. Now, the Women’s Health Protection Act–introduced in 2013, not yet passed, but supported by candidates including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)–is more in vogue. That act targets state laws that purport to be safety-based medical regulations while functioning as abortion preventers.

Joe Biden seems to have embraced the trends, even if he’s been a bit late to the party. On Wednesday, Biden’s campaign told NBC that the former vice president was still pro-Hyde; federal funds shouldn’t be used for abortions absent circumstances of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother.

After NBC’s report, however, all hell broke loose. Activist and actor Alyssa Milano called Biden’s campaign manager, warning, “This is not okay. And I’m going to have to publicly say something.” Milano wasn’t the only one, either. According to Biden campaign officials, “All the people called. Everyone called.”  And Biden answered.

While addressing Democratic National Committee’s African American Leadership Council summit in Atlanta, Biden went off-script, declaring that he could no longer support the Hyde Amendment. “Circumstances have changed,” offered Biden to explain his surprising shift.

Since then, Biden has caught a great deal of flack for this 180.

Others, though, are adopting a “better late than never” stance:

Biden’s choice to handle his history with Hyde with more finesse than his history with the 1994 Crime Bill is also noteworthy. The Crime Bill, initially drafted by Biden, has long been criticized for its results: mass incarceration with a particularly disproportionate impact on minorities and the poor. Despite constant conservative talking points about Biden’s relationship with the bill, Biden has stood behind his work on it.

With Hyde, though, we’re seeing a Biden with new willingness to re-examine long-held positions. Whether Biden’s abrupt change evidences a true shift in personal beliefs or is simply a political concession during a time when abortion rights are more contentious than ever is debatable. More than anything, though, Biden’s shift mirrors the trends in abortion beliefs generally.

[image via Scott Olson/Getty Images]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos