Until this week, 2020 Democrats had largely avoided taking major shots at each other and preferred, instead, to burnish their own credentials or bash President Trump.
But that ended Wednesday when former Vice President Joe Biden reiterated his support for the Hyde Amendment, a controversial budget rule that blocks government funding for abortions — except in cases involving rape, incest, or severe health risks to the mother.
Then, the pile-on began.
Biden confirmed to the New York Times that he’s still in favor of the Hyde Amendment, which makes him the only 2020 candidate to come out directly in support of the rule. And his opponents, namely Sen. Elizabeth Warren, were quick to point out that his stance negatively impacts low-income women since the rule most directly affects Medicaid. Biden’s view also puts him at odds with many abortion rights and women’s groups, who could offer high-profile endorsements in the 2020 race.
During her MSNBC town hall Wednesday night, Warren called the Hyde Amendment discrimination against the “most vulnerable” women. After Alabama passed the country’s strictest abortion ban last month, the Massachusetts senator dropped a plan to protect access to the procedure that, for one, called for requiring federal programs like Medicaid and private, marketplace insurers, to cover abortions.
When MSNBC’s Chris Hayes asked Warren if she thought Biden’s stance was wrong, she said “yes.”
“Understand this: Women of means will still have access to abortions,” Warren said during Wednesday’s town hall. “Who won’t will be poor women. It will be working women and women who can’t afford to take off three days from work, and very young women. It will be women who have been raped and women who have been molested by someone in their own family. We do not pass laws that take away that freedom from the women who are most vulnerable.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, another 2020 contender who has a plan of her own to ensure women have access to abortions, also spoke out against the Hyde Amendment after Biden’s comments.
“Repealing the Hyde Amendment is critical so low-income women in particular can have access to the reproductive care they need and deserve,” she wrote on Twitter Wednesday. Sen.
Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Sen. Kamala Harris, who has fundraised for abortion groups in the wake of restrictive laws, also took to Twitter to say they support appealing the Hyde Amendment.
On his own
The Democratic Party has long supported access to abortion, but the Hyde Amendment, which needs to be renewed every year as part of the federal budget, has often divided lawmakers. It’s grown increasingly popular, however, to call for the rule’s repeal entirely, and the Democratic platform officially included that stance for the first time in 2016.
Harris, Gillibrand, Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar — all the female senators running for the Democratic ticket — recently joined together on legislation to repeal Hyde. And last month, Sen. Cory Booker, who's also running for president, said he’d back federal legislation that overturns the Hyde Amendment and proposed creating a White House Office of Reproductive Freedom.
Abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America told the Times Biden’s current Hyde stance would disqualify him from earning the group’s endorsement. Planned Parenthood Action Fund also said they “strongly encourage” Biden re-evaluate his position. The president of Emily’s List, which supports politicians who favor abortion rights, told the Times that Biden’s pro-Hyde stance “is going to be a factor for a lot of voters.”
Biden’s campaign, however, told Politico his position on the law could change if the country curtails abortion access further.
“The Hyde Amendment does not prevent organizations in the U.S. that provide lifesaving health care services for women from receiving the federal funding they need," Biden's campaign said. "But 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."
Access to abortion has increasingly been under a spotlight since several Republican states — and Democrat-led Louisiana — have enacted several near-total bans on abortion this year. Anti-abortion lawmakers hope to trigger a legal fight that could wind its way to the Supreme Court and threaten the Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
States have also roped abortion clinics into following hard-to-meet restrictions, such as admitting privileges to local hospitals or requiring interviews with all of their physicians for safety reasons. Abortion advocates often call these laws “Targeted Regulations on Abortion Providers,” or “TRAP” laws, since they can force clinics to close. This year, 46 states introduced at least 296 measures that restricted abortion in some way, according to a Planned Parenthood tally.
Such restrictions are currently threatening Missouri’s last remaining abortion clinic, which is still performing the procedure until a St. Louis judge decides whether or not the clinic has to comply with all state rules.
Cover image: Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the Human Rights Campaign Columbus, Ohio Dinner at Ohio State University Saturday, June 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)