The Slatest

Biden Changes Mind, Says He’s Now Against Decades-Old Ban on Federal Funding for Abortion

Joe Biden speaks to a crowd at a Democratic National Committee event at Flourish in Atlanta on June 6, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Joe Biden addresses his political evolution on the Hyde Amendment banning federal funding for abortions at a DNC event on Thursday in Atlanta. Dustin Chambers/Getty Images

Joe Biden is eyeing a run against President Donald Trump that stakes out the political center of the electorate, but that means he’s often running to the right of the current Democratic field. On Thursday, however, Biden reversed course, veering left on an issue that is of increasing importance for Democratic voters: the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortions. Biden has supported the measure, which dates back to 1976, throughout his political life, with his campaign reaffirming its support as recently as this week. Amidst growing pressure, however, Biden announced Thursday he had changed his mind on the issue, saying that “circumstances have changed.” “We’ve seen state after state including Georgia passing extreme laws,” Biden explained. “It’s clear that these folks are going to stop at nothing to get rid of Roe.” Other Democrats in the 2020 field have called for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment because it prohibited Medicaid funding of abortion, which disproportionately affected poor women and women of color.

Biden expounded on his change of heart Thursday evening during a DNC-hosted gala in Atlanta. “I’ve been working through the finer details of my health care plan like others in this race, and I’ve been struggling with the problems that Hyde now presents,” Biden said. “If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s ZIP code.” Biden cited the growth of anti-abortion laws in states, particularly in the deep south, that has made abortion procedures more and more difficult to access, while also setting up a potential Supreme Court challenge to Roe v. Wade. “Folks, times have changed,” Biden said. “I don’t think these guys are going to let up.”

“At a time where the fundamental freedoms enshrined in Roe are under attack, we need full-throated allies in our leaders,” Ilyse Hogue, president of the abortion rights group Naral Pro-Choice America, said of Biden’s reversal. “We’re pleased that Joe Biden has joined the rest of the 2020 Democratic field in coalescing around the Party’s core values—support for abortion rights, and the basic truth that reproductive freedom is fundamental to the pursuit of equality and economic security in this country.”

Biden, a Catholic, hasn’t always hewed to the Democratic Party line on abortion rights, but times have indeed changed. The Democratic Party he hopes to lead has shifted to the left in the era of Trump while anti-abortion legislation has gained traction in state legislatures. That puts the issue front-and-center in the buildup to 2020 and Biden’s stance on the Hyde Amendment was a potential point of attack for Democratic challengers looking to paint the former VP as out of step with the current mood of the party. Biden will likely still have some convincing to do for many on the left, but maintained that he would make “no apologies for the last position.”