Less than 48 hours after Joe Biden's campaign ignited a firestorm by confirming he still supported the Hyde Amendment, the former vice president publicly reversed his position at a gala in Atlanta, GA. It was a rare retraction by Biden, who often resists apologizing for his past decisions. (See: His treatment of Anita Hill.)
"If I believe healthcare is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone's zip code," Biden said.
The Hyde Amendment, which first came into effect in 1977, prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion care, except in cases of rape, incest, or when a woman's life is in danger. That means the ban applies to Medicaid and other federal health insurance programs, such as those offering coverage to military personnel, federal employees, inmates in federal prison, and more.
Reproductive rights advocates have long argued the ban disproportionately hurts low-income women and women of color, who already face the most roadblocks when trying to access abortion care. This is one of the reasons that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) adopted repealing the Hyde Amendment as part of the party's platform during the 2016 presidential election.
Several 2020 presidential hopefuls, such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand, have worked on legislation to end Hyde and have made the repeal a core part of their reproductive justice platforms. Even Biden seemed to commit to the idea at a South Carolina event last month — which is why the news that he still supported the Hyde Amendment came as a shock to many, and was met with swift, intense criticism.
The backlash against Biden, who has a mixed record on abortion rights, happened partially because of how out-of-touch his support for the Hyde Amendment seemed in face of the uptick of attacks against abortion care this year. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 378 anti-abortion measures were introduced between January 1 and May 20, ranging from restrictions to outright banning the procedure.
Biden's decision to reverse his position after mounting public pressure was celebrated by reproductive rights advocates. "At a time when the fundamental freedoms enshrined in [Roe v. Wade] are under attack, we need full-throated allies in our leaders. Leadership is often about listening and learning," Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "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."