Biden's "Evolution" on Abortion is Dangerous

With the attack on Roe v Wade in full effect leading into 2020, Democrats are galvanized over Women’s Issues, particularly defending the current siege on abortion rights. We are arguably in a no-mans-land right now (pun intended) in defining our new core issues after 2016 and the Democratic base has made it clear that this is an issue with little room for compromise. The last few years has solidified further movement to the left as propositions like Medicare for all have become a mainstay for everyone. Abortion rights are intrinsically linked with the “healthcare is a right” movement, as the proposition that abortion is healthcare is now viewed as more mainstream. The recent coordinated attacks on abortions rights by the GOP have only helped to solidify these sentiments on the left, but it seems that not everyone has gotten the memo.

Joe Biden announced on Wednesday he would not support a repeal on the Hyde Amendment, which is an unpopular 40 year-old policy that denies federal funding for abortion. This means Medicaid will not pay for an abortion unless the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. It also means that insurance providers are often not required to reimburse providers or customers for the associated costs. The result is a disproportionate negative effect on minority and poorer women who rely on Medicare and often can’t afford out of pocket abortion costs. The lack of popularity for Hyde is no secret to most. All of the female senators currently running for president — Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Amy Klobuchar — have each co-sponsored legislation to repeal it. It was not difficult to assess where the female leaders should land on this issue and the record number of women running and women voting means this take should be setting the political pace as the issue itself pertains to women’s health. This leads me to believe that Biden intentionally resisted taking this into account to maintain his position about protecting the Hyde Amendment and that his personal opinion on abortion has really changed very little.

In 1982 Biden supported a Republican-backed constitutional amendment that would have allowed each state to actually overturn Roe v. Wade that was called “the most devastating attack yet on abortion rights” at the time.

As a sitting senator in the 70’s and 80’s, Joe Biden consistently voted in favor of keeping Hyde firmly in place and when the Clinton Administration sought to add rape and incest exceptions to Hyde, Joe Biden opposed it. In 1981, he proposed legislation that would block federal aid from biomedical research for abortion, even going so far as to call it the “Biden Amendment.” He also supported Jesse Helms’s amendment that sought to bar foreign Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) from receiving United States aid or using that aid in performing abortions. This policy has now morphed into the Global Gag Rule, which has been used as a political tool to deny women access to adequate healthcare all over the world. In 1982 Biden supported a Republican-backed constitutional amendment that would have allowed each state to actually overturn Roe v. Wade that was called “the most devastating attack yet on abortion rights” at the time. That bill did made it to a full Senate vote then, but when it was pushed again the next year, Biden switched and voted against it. The flip-flopping for him is nothing new, particularly on the issue of abortion.

As a life long Catholic, Biden has clearly struggled with the issue of abortion and this has been the case for many Catholic Democratic leaders who have cited their faith in explaining their personal opposition and support of abortion restrictions while also trying to appear to support abortion rights. Early in his career, Biden declared that the Supreme Court “went too far” in deciding Roe v. Wade and in 1974, he said that he didn’t believe that “a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.” His actions to block insurance exceptions to Hyde in the 90’s in cases of rape and incest also further reflect his limitations.

I applaud a candidate’s evolution on issues and realizing mistakes, but we have no room for error on this and we can’t afford the leeway.

This lighting fast turn-around on the Hyde Amendment in only a day matches up with his entire career. Some are applauding Biden’s willingness to listen to the voters, calling it a sign of his personal evolution; but all it does is make me more skeptical with an issue that is too precarious to risk. With abortion rights under attack from Republicans and the impending threat to Roe, this newfound support for repealing Hyde is not good enough. I don’t trust someone who nearly gave away my right to choose in the 70’s. I also don’t trust a sudden change of heart on the subject when he was under so much pressure to reverse his position and his failure to do so would have stopped him dead in his tracks politically. I’m looking for representation from someone who will fight for my reproductive rights that are currently under attack. This means a proven record-ensuring that my rights as a woman are protected are non-negotiable. I’m not looking for lip-service on an issue that is too precious and too vulnerable to risk. I applaud a candidate’s evolution on issues and realizing mistakes, but we have no room for error on this and we can’t afford the leeway. Biden’s history shows he is not a candidate capable of taking on this fight against members of our own party and members of the opposing party in the general election. We have many monumental fights on the horizon, which means we need a true champion to represent all of us.


Amee Vanderpool writes the “Shero and a Scholar” Newsletter and is an attorney, contributor to Playboy Magazine, analyst for BBC radio and Director of The Inanna Project. She can be reached at avanderpool@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.