Joe Biden says his views on abortion have evolved over time, but this week his campaign said he still supports a ban on government funding for abortion in most cases.
The Biden campaign told NBC News that the candidate supports the Hyde Amendment, the network reported on Wednesday. That’s consistent with his votes over the years. He voted several times in the Senate to ban federal funding for abortions, even in cases of rape or incest.
The position is at odds with most of the rest of the 2020 Democratic field. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren have all cosponsored legislation to repeal Hyde, according to NBC. The majority of Americans, however, still support the amendment.
Biden says he supports Roe v. Wade, the 1973 abortion decision that established the right to abortion. The campaign told Vox that Biden would consider a change to Hyde if state-level efforts to drastically restrict abortion succeed: “Given the current draconian attempts to limit access to abortion, if avenues for women to access their protected rights under Roe v. Wade are closed, he would be open to repeal.”
Supporters of the amendment argue that taxpayer funding shouldn’t be used to pay for abortions. But opponents argue that the amendment, which bans Medicaid coverage for most abortions, creates a two-tiered system where middle-class and affluent patients can access the procedure and poorer patients cannot.
Biden’s current position on Hyde was in doubt — until now
The Hyde Amendment, first passed in 1976, bans federal funding for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or a threat to the life of the pregnant patient. The exceptions for rape and incest were added in 1993, when Bill Clinton was president.
As a senator in the 1970s and ’80s, Biden supported the federal funding ban and opposed efforts to add the rape and incest exceptions, according to NBC.
Biden’s positions on abortion have changed over time. A Catholic who has said he is “personally opposed to abortion,” he voted in the early 1980s in favor of a constitutional amendment to allow states to overturn Roe v. Wade.
But more recently, he has expressed support for Roe, calling it in a 2007 interview “the only means by which, in this heterogeneous society of ours, we can reach some general accommodation on what is a religiously charged and a publicly charged debate.”
Campaign spokesperson Bill Russo told the New York Times earlier this year that Biden supports Roe, but would not say whether he still supports the ban on federal funding for abortions.
But this week, the campaign confirmed to NBC News and to Vox that Biden still supports the Hyde Amendment.
The campaign told Vox that if recent efforts to restrict abortion access — including near-total bans on abortion in Louisiana, Ohio, Alabama, and elsewhere — succeed, Biden would be open to repealing Hyde.
None of the bans have yet taken effect, and all have been or are likely to be challenged in court. But if they do take effect, abortion would be banned in the affected states as early as six weeks into pregnancy — or, in Alabama, at all stages of pregnancy, with few exceptions.
It’s not clear how allowing federal funding for abortions would help patients in that event, since the procedure would be banned in nearly all cases — paying for it would no longer be the issue. A spokesperson for the campaign could not clarify how Biden saw a repeal of Hyde impacting patients in the event of near-total bans at the state level.
The Hyde Amendment, which is popular in polls, was long regarded as untouchable by Democratic candidates. But more recently, thanks in part to grassroots activism arguing that abortion needs to be not just legal but affordable, candidates have begun calling for repeal.
Hillary Clinton did so in 2016 and a number of Democrats, including Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Gillibrand, Harris, Klobuchar, and Warren, have done so this year. Sen. Bernie Sanders criticized Biden’s position on Wednesday.
Biden does support codifying Roe in state law, so that federal protections for abortion will stand even if the decision is overturned, Jamal Brown, national press secretary for the Biden campaign, told Vox.
“Vice President Biden believes we must protect the progress we’ve made and has called on codifying the decision in Roe to ensure this choice remains between a woman and her doctor,” he said.
A number of other Democratic candidates, including Sens. Gillibrand and Warren, have also called for legislation codifying Roe.
Meanwhile, abortion rights advocates are calling on Biden to reconsider his position on Hyde.
“We’re hopeful that just as Vice President Biden has evolved on his support for legal abortion, so too will he advance his understanding of the devastating impact of denying coverage of abortion, especially for women struggling financially,” said Destiny Lopez, co-director of the All* Above All Action Fund, which advocates for public insurance coverage for abortion, in a statement. “We invite Vice President Biden to meet with us to discuss his position on abortion coverage bans and lifting the Hyde Amendment.”