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.
The @JoeBiden rollout was close to flawless. His handling of this Hyde Amendment issue was a mess.
Changes of position over a long career are justifiable but should be thoughtfully planned.
This was an awkward flip-flop-flip.
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) June 7, 2019
Joe Biden for his whole career supported the Hyde amendment which prohibits using tax money for abortions. Then he was intimidated and caved. He now wants all of us to pay for abortions even late term. He’s a pezzonovante. Not presidential material, no backbone.
— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) June 8, 2019
Others, though, are adopting a “better late than never” stance:
Biden’s reversal on the Hyde amendment is a step in the right direction.
— ACLU (@ACLU) June 7, 2019
.@JoeBiden just came out saying, after listening to women in the last 24 hrs, he WILL repeal the Hyde Amendment. I repeat, Joe Biden just came out against the Hyde Amendment.
Thanks, Joe. For listening to the American people. And thank you to the women who raised their voices. pic.twitter.com/O304t9cANV
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) June 7, 2019
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.