Former vice president and 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden reiterated his support Wednesday for the Hyde Amendment ― which bars federal funding from going toward abortion procedures, and which he voted for as a senator in 1976 ― after he told a constituent in South Carolina last month that “it can’t stay.”
The Democratic front-runner’s campaign told HuffPost that he “misheard” the constituent, and thought he was responding to a question about the so-called Mexico City policy, the “global gag rule” that bans organizations abroad from providing any information about abortion or offering abortion services if they are funded by the U.S. NBC noted on Wednesday that the campaign and the candidate appeared to be at odds on Hyde.
To clarify, Biden “has not at this point changed his position on the Hyde Amendment,” his campaign said, and contended that “the Hyde Amendment does not prevent organizations in the U.S. that provide lifesaving health care services for women from receiving the federal funding they need.” The amendment now includes exceptions for when the life of the mother is at risk or in cases of rape or incest, the campaign noted in a follow-up email.
The Hyde Amendment does however prevent many women on Medicaid from receiving abortion services ― 1 in 5 women of reproductive age is on Medicaid, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Some states use their own Medicaid funding to provide abortion services, but many do not, and KFF estimated in 2017 that more than half of women of reproductive age on Medicaid lack abortion coverage because of Hyde.
Biden’s campaign said he would consider a repeal under one ambiguous condition: “Given the current draconian attempts to limit access to abortion, if avenues for women to access their protected rights under Roe v. Wade are closed, he would be open to repeal.” When asked to clarify what “closed” meant, the campaign did not respond.
This puts Biden to the right of Democratic presidential nominees stretching back decades ― Hillary Clinton supported repealing Hyde in 2016, as did Barack Obama in 2008. In 1992, Bill Clinton campaigned on repealing Hyde and asked Congress to do so in his first term as president.
Biden’s decadeslong support for the Hyde Amendment also sets him apart from his cohort of 2020 Democratic hopefuls, especially top-tier female candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who have come out in full swing against the amendment.
Harris has co-sponsored the EACH Woman Act, which would repeal Hyde altogether, and Warren called for the repeal of Hyde in a Medium post last month outlining her plan to protect abortion.
“All women ― no matter where they live, where they’re from, how much money they make, or the color of their skin ― are entitled to access the high-quality, evidence-based reproductive health care that is envisioned by Roe,” she wrote.
“Making that a reality starts with repealing the Hyde Amendment.”
On Wednesday morning, senator and fellow 2020 candidate Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) doubled down on her support for a repeal.
Gillibrand spoke at women’s social club and workspace The Wing in New York City, and drove home her commitment to reproductive rights and to repealing the Hyde Amendment. Activist and author Gloria Steinem introduced the senator, telling the crowd of 300 women of all ages that if Gillibrand becomes president, she will prioritize repealing Hyde and codifying Roe v. Wade into law. “She will ensure that every woman in every state has access to the full slate of reproductive health care choices, including abortion,” said Steinem.
Gillibrand referred to the current wave of anti-abortion legislation as an “all-out assault on our reproductive freedom” and told the crowd “the federal government should have no role in deciding when, and how and how many and under what circumstances women choose to have children.”
When asked if she had a response to Biden’s support for Hyde, Gillibrand told HuffPost, through a campaign spokesperson, that “repealing the Hyde Amendment is critical so that low-income women in particular can have access to the reproductive care they need and deserve, and it should be a priority for all Democrats.”
National abortion rights groups were quick to respond to Biden’s support for Hyde on Wednesday morning.
“Nearly all our presidential candidates recognize, as do a majority of American voters, that denying Medicaid insurance coverage of abortion can be the same as an outright ban,” Destiny Lopez, co-director of All* Above All Action Fund, a group focused on lifting abortion bans, said on Wednesday. “We need presidential candidates who are unwavering in their support for women’s dignity and equality.”
Supporting Hyde is essentially just a maneuver to “block people ― particularly women of color and women with low incomes ― from accessing safe, legal abortion,” said Kelley Robinson, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
During his time in the Obama administration, Biden got consistently high ratings for his support for Roe from national abortion rights organization NARAL Pro-Choice America. Now, however, the president of the organization is calling Biden’s support for the Hyde Amendment inexcusable.
“There’s no political or ideological excuse for Joe Biden’s support for the Hyde Amendment,” Ilyse Hogue, NARAL Pro-Choice president, said in a statement on Wednesday.
Emma Gray contributed reporting for this story.
This story has been updated to note exceptions to the Hyde Amendment’s ban.