Bi­den re­verses po­si­tion on fed­eral dol­lars for abor­tions

The Standard Journal - - NEWS - By Bill Bar­row

Af­ter two days of in­tense crit­i­cism, Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Bi­den re­versed course Thurs­day and de­clared that he no longer sup­ports a long-stand­ing con­gres­sional ban on us­ing fed­eral health care money to pay for abor­tions.

“If I be­lieve health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer sup­port an amend­ment” that makes it more dif­fi­cult for some women to ac­cess care, Bi­den said at a Demo­cratic Party fundraiser in At­lanta.

The former vice pres­i­dent’s re­ver­sal on the Hyde Amend­ment came af­ter ri­vals and women’s rights groups blasted him for af­firm­ing through cam­paign aides that he still sup­ported the decades­old bud­get pro­vi­sion. The dy­nam­ics had been cer­tain to flare up again at Democrats’ first pri­mary de­bate in three weeks.

Bi­den didn’t men­tion this week’s at­tacks, say­ing his de­ci­sion was about health care, not pol­i­tics. Yet the cir­cum­stances highlight the risks for a 76-year-old former vice pres­i­dent who’s run­ning as more of a cen­trist in a party in which some skep­ti­cal ac­tivists openly ques­tion whether he can be the party stan­dard-bearer in 2020.

And Bi­den’s ex­pla­na­tion tac­itly re­peated his crit­ics’ ar­gu­ments that the Hyde Amend­ment is an­other abor­tion bar­rier that dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fects poor women and women of color.

“I’ve been strug­gling with the prob­lems that Hyde now presents,” Bi­den said, open­ing a speech ded­i­cated mostly to vot­ing rights and is­sues im­por­tant to the black com­mu­nity.

“I want to be clear: I make no apolo­gies for my last po­si­tion. I make no apolo­gies for what I’m about to say,” he ex­plained, ar­gu­ing that “cir­cum­stances have changed” with Repub­li­can-run states — in­clud­ing Ge­or­gia, where Bi­den spoke — adopt­ing se­vere re­stric­tions on abor­tion .

A Ro­man Catholic who has wres­tled pub­licly with abor­tion pol­icy for decades, Bi­den said he voted as a se­na­tor to sup­port the Hyde Amend­ment be­cause he be­lieved that women would still have ac­cess to abor­tion even with­out Med­i­caid in­sur­ance and other fed­eral health care grants and that abor­tion op­po­nents shouldn’t be com­pelled to pay for the pro­ce­dure. It was part of what Bi­den has de­scribed as a “mid­dle ground” on abor­tion.

Now, he says, there are too many bar­ri­ers that threaten that con­sti­tu­tional right, leav­ing some women with no rea­son­able op­tions as long as Repub­li­cans keep push­ing for an out­right re­peal of the Supreme Court’s 1973 de­ci­sion that le­gal­ized abor­tion na­tion­wide.

The former vice pres­i­dent, who launched his 2020 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in April, said he ar­rived at the de­ci­sion as part of de­vel­op­ing an up­com­ing com­pre­hen­sive health care pro­posal. He has de­clared his sup­port for a Medi­care-like pub­lic op­tion as the next step to­ward uni­ver­sal cov­er­age. He rea­soned that his goal of uni­ver­sal cov­er­age means women must have full and fair ac­cess to care, in­clud­ing abor­tion.

A Planned Par­ent­hood rep­re­sen­ta­tive ap­plauded Bi­den’s re­ver­sal but noted that he has been lag­ging the women’s rights move­ment on the is­sue.

“Happy to see Joe Bi­den em­brace what we have long known to be true: Hyde blocks peo­ple — par­tic­u­larly women of color and women with low in­comes — from ac­cess­ing safe, le­gal abor­tion care,” said Leana Wen of Planned Par­ent­hood, the women’s health gi­ant whose ser­vices in­clude abor­tion and abor­tion re­fer­rals.

Other ac­tivists ac­cepted credit for push­ing Bi­den on the is­sue.

“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,” said Il­yse Hogue, pres­i­dent of NARAL, a lead­ing abor­tion­rights ad­vo­cacy group.

Re­peal­ing Hyde has be­come a defin­ing stan­dard for Democrats in re­cent years, mak­ing what was once a more com­mon po­si­tion among mod­er­ate Democrats more un­ten­able, par­tic­u­larly given the dy­nam­ics of pri­mary pol­i­tics head­ing into 2020. At its 2016 con­ven­tion, the party in­cluded a call for re­peal­ing Hyde in the Demo­cratic plat­form, do­ing so at the urg­ing of nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton.

At least one prom­i­nent Demo­cratic woman re­mained un­con­vinced.

“I am not clear that Joe Bi­den be­lieves un­equiv­o­cally that ev­ery sin­gle woman has the right to make de­ci­sions about her body, re­gard­less of her in­come or race,” said Demo­cratic strate­gist Jess Mo­rales Rock­etto, who worked for Clin­ton in 2016. “It is im­per­a­tive that the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee be­lieve that.”

Repub­li­cans pounced, fram­ing Bi­den’s change in po­si­tion as a gaffe.

“He’s just not very good at this. Joe Bi­den is an ex­is­ten­tial threat to Joe Bi­den,” said Tim Mur­taugh, the com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s re­elec­tion cam­paign.

A se­nior Bi­den cam­paign of­fi­cial said some aides were sur­prised at the speed of the re­ver­sal, given Bi­den’s long his­tory of ex­plain­ing his abor­tion po­si­tions in terms of his faith. But aides re­al­ized that as the front-run­ner, the at­tacks weren’t go­ing to let up, and his cam­paign rea­soned that the fall­out within the Demo­cratic pri­mary out­weigh any longterm ben­e­fit of main­tain his pre­vi­ous Hyde sup­port.

The of­fi­cial spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss in­ter­nal con­ver­sa­tions.

Bi­den’s decades­long po­si­tion first gained new scru­tiny sev­eral weeks ago when the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union cir­cu­lated video of the can­di­date telling an ac­tivist who asked about the Hyde Amend­ment that it should be re­pealed.

His cam­paign later af­firmed his sup­port for his fel­low Democrats’ call for a fed­eral statute cod­i­fy­ing the Roe v. Wade abor­tion de­ci­sion into law.

Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date former Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den speaks dur­ing the I Will Vote Fundrais­ing Gala in At­lanta on Thurs­day.

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