In a sharp reversal of policy, 2020 hopeful former Vice President Joe Biden stated that he now opposes to the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of federal funds for abortion treatments except in cases of incest, rape or where the mother’s life is endangered. Biden has attributed the change to his developing attitudes regarding abortion, especially as harsh anti-abortion laws are being passed at the state level around the US.

The Hyde Amendment, named for Illinois Republican representative Henry Hyde, was passed in 1976 and marked a significant victory for the anti-abortion political movement. It bans the use of federal funds in providing women with abortions, specifically through Medicaid. Although Medicaid budgets are provided by both the federal and state governments, most states opt against covering abortions with their share of the funds.

Hyde has been criticized by those who advocate for rolling back abortion restrictions and ensuring that women who choose to have abortions are able to do so safely and easily. By denying federal assistance, lower-income women — and women of color disproportionately — encounter greater difficulty in obtaining such treatments. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization dedicated to advancing sexual and reproductive health, “approximately one-fourth of women who would have Medicaid-funded abortions instead give birth when this funding is unavailable.” It is estimated that it prevents 60,000 abortions a year.

Biden has supported the measure for decades, along with similar measures, such as the aptly named Biden Amendment, which banned foreign aid to biomedical research relating to abortion. In 1986, he argued in favor of the Hyde Amendment, stating that “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.” 

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Now, Biden argues the logical opposite. At a DNC gala in Atlanta on Thursday, he reversed his position and provided context to his change of heart. “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,” he said. Only a day before, the Biden campaign still expressed support for the law.

It is no secret that Biden has a somewhat desultory history with abortion policy. Raised in an observant Catholic family, Biden’s language on abortion has tended to emphasize government neutrality rather than explicit support for abortion rights. This middle-path on abortion has cost him politically as well as personally — in 2008 he was barred from receiving communion by the bishop of Scranton because of his abortion stances. Biden himself has stated that he is personally opposed to abortion but does not want to impose his views legislatively on others.


This latest reversal comes as the Biden campaign grapples with perceptions of the former vice president and senator as out-of-touch with a younger more progressive generation of Democratic voters. This is especially true as Biden aims to keep himself in a frontrunner position for the 2020 nomination amongst a pool of diverse candidates, most of whom fall to Biden’s left.

His reversal was applauded by Dr. Leana Wen, CEO of Planned Parenthood, who took to Twitter to write that she was “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.”

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