Joe Biden Is Catching Up To His Party's Shifting Views On Abortion

The 2020 hopeful's reversal on the Hyde Amendment is emblematic of wider changes within the Democratic Party.
“I can’t justify leaving millions of women without the health care they need," former Vice President Joe Biden said.
“I can’t justify leaving millions of women without the health care they need," former Vice President Joe Biden said.

The Democratic Party has been edging more solidly leftward in its attitude toward abortion. In recent days, so has Joe Biden.

Last week, the 2020 hopeful announced that he’d changed his mind on the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for most abortions in the U.S. Up until then, Biden — who voted for the legislation in 1976 — was the only Democratic presidential candidate to still offer his support. He insisted the move wasn’t driven by political expediency, citing a spate of restrictive new state laws governing abortion.

“I can’t justify leaving millions of women without the health care they need,” he said. “If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support [the amendment].”

Biden isn’t the only Democrat who has shifted views on both the Hyde Amendment and abortion more broadly ― a shift that could potentially be amplified by the latest restrictions on abortion access.

As recently as the summer of 2016, Democrats were close to evenly split on the Hyde Amendment, with 41% supporting the legislation and 44% opposing it. Now, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov survey, support within the party has fallen to just 31%, with opposition rising to 55%. (Among the general public, support for the Hyde Amendment has remained relatively stable, moving from 55% to 51%.)

A growing majority of Democrats also say they would support their state providing funding for women to receive abortions that are neither medically necessary nor a result of incest or rape. And Democrats are 14 points likelier now than they were three years ago to say they’d strongly support their state’s doing so.

The debate over the Hyde Amendment won’t necessarily leave a defining mark on the Democratic primary. Only a quarter of Democrats say they have heard a lot about the Hyde Amendment in the news recently, and only about a third say it would be very important to their votes. With the entire 2020 Democratic field now in agreement, it’s unlikely that the legislation will continue to receive as much attention through the remaining months of the campaign cycle.

Democrats remain far from unified on the broader issue of abortion, and there’s still significant wariness among some blocs, including those characterized by The New York Times as ”less educated, more moderate, more religious, more rural, more likely to be nonwhite and to live in the South.” But there’s also a rising trend in support for abortion rights within the party. Last year, according to the General Social Survey, 62% of Democrats said that it should be possible for a woman to obtain a legal abortion if she wanted one for any reason ― a 10-point rise in just two years. And a record number of party members now describe themselves as pro-choice.

The recent crop of anti-abortion laws, many restrictive enough to be unpopular even among some abortion opponents, may help unify Democrats further as well as raise — at least for the moment — the prominence of reproductive rights issues. Americans are more likely to say they had heard a lot of recent news about state abortion bans than they are to report similar attention to other issues, such as investigations into President Donald Trump, debates over Trump’s impeachment, the 2020 primary, and rising tensions with Iran, according to a new report produced by the Democratic polling group Navigator Research.

That may be especially true for Democratic women. Although there’s generally not much of a gender gap in views about abortion, recent polling suggests that it holds more resonance for women in the party. In another HuffPost/YouGov poll, female Democrats were more than 20 points likelier than male Democrats to say the issue of abortion would be very important to their presidential votes. And a recent Monmouth survey of Nevada showed that 22% of female Democratic voters mentioned reproductive rights or related issues as among the most important to their vote, ranking it second only to health care. Only 6% of their male counterparts brought it up.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted June 7-8 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some but not all potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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