POLITICS

Joe Biden Said Abortion Is Not 'A Choice And A Right' In 2006

An old interview unearthed by CNN highlights the presidential hopeful's shaky record on reproductive rights.

In a 2006 interview that CNN uncovered on Thursday, Joe Biden described himself as the Democrats’ “odd man out” on reproductive rights and said he did “not view abortion as a choice and a right.”

The interview with Texas Monthly, which posted the footage to YouTube in 2008, took place just months before Biden, a senator at the time, announced his 2008 presidential bid. Though the video is 13 years old, it seems to reinforce recent indications that Biden has a more equivocal stance on abortion rights than many of his fellow 2020 presidential candidates.

Biden, a devout Catholic, lamented the difficulty of toeing the line between his personal objection to abortion and his belief that it is protected by the Constitution.

“I do not vote for funding for abortion. I voted against partial-birth abortion ― to limit it ― and I vote for no restrictions on a woman’s right to be able to have an abortion under Roe v. Wade,” Biden said in the 2006 interview, adding, “I made everybody angry.”

The issue of federal funding for abortion has dogged Biden in recent days. After his campaign reiterated his support for the Hyde Amendment ― a 1976 provision that restricts Medicaid, Medicare and other federal health insurance programs from covering the vast majority of abortions ― Biden reversed course days later and announced he no longer supports it. 

Even in 2006, health experts were pushing back on one of the terms Biden used in the interview: “partial-birth abortion.” The National Right to Life Committee coined the phrase in 1995 while advocating against “dilation and extraction,” or D&E abortions, which are rare overall but occur most often after the first trimester. They’re typically performed when a pregnant woman’s life is at risk or when anomalies become apparent that mean the pregnancy is unviable. “Partial-birth abortion” refers to essentially the same procedure, but is seen as a more politically provocative term.

Some of Biden’s comments from the 2006 interview may be harder to walk back. “I do not view abortion as a choice and a right,” he said. “I think it’s always a tragedy, and I think that it should be rare and safe, and I think we should be focusing on how to limit the number of abortions.” Biden also said he’d like to “focus on how to deal with women not wanting abortion.”

Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates issued a statement Thursday emphasizing that the former vice president does believe in the right to abortion. 

“As president, he would fight to preserve Roe v. Wade and he has called for it to be codified into law,” Bates said. “Vice President Biden would nominate judges who would stand firm on upholding all of our constitutional rights, including a woman’s right to choose.”

But Biden’s record on the issue is mixed. As a senator in 1981, Biden voted for a constitutional amendment allowing states to overturn Roe v. Wade, but he reversed his position and voted against the measure a year later.

Meanwhile, Biden’s 2020 opponents have taken more progressive stances on the issue as an unprecedented number of states pass incredibly restrictive abortion legislation. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, for one, made waves in March when he said he “absolutely” supports access to abortions in the third trimester.

By the time Biden announced he had changed his mind about the Hyde Amendment, the rest of the 2020 Democratic field was already in agreement against it. Many of those opponents have beat him in releasing concrete plans to protect abortion rights, and have spoken out more vigorously than Biden against recent anti-abortion laws in Alabama and elsewhere. 

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