Biden infuriates abortion rights groups with Hyde stance

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenCDC chief clarifies vaccine comments: 'There will be no nationwide mandate' Overnight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Biden urges local governments to stave off evictions MORE infuriated abortion rights advocates Wednesday when his campaign confirmed he supports a policy that blocks Medicaid and other federal health programs from paying for abortions, making him the only Democratic presidential candidate to hold that position.

Biden's support of the Hyde amendment puts him at odds with party leaders, congressional Democrats and his 2020 competitors amid growing momentum to repeal the federal prohibition.

"Differentiating himself from the field this way will not earn Joe Biden any political points and will bring harm to women who are already most vulnerable," said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. 

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For other abortion rights advocates, Biden’s support of Hyde illustrates what they say has been his weakness throughout his public service career, calling him unreliable and inconsistent on reproductive rights issues. 

“Joe Biden has been disappointing on reproductive rights for decades,” said Erin Matson, a reproductive rights activist who has worked with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and co-founded Reproaction, an abortion rights group.

“I am disappointed to see that he’s failing to read the room with Democratic primary voters and the general public who are sick and tired of restrictions on abortion and old, out of touch white men trying to put restrictions on women,” she added.

The Hyde amendment was first passed more than 40 years ago in response to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling, which established a woman’s right to abortion. It’s been reauthorized in annual government spending bills ever since, with votes from Democrats and Republicans.

As a senator from Delaware, Biden once voted to let states overturn Roe v. Wade. He also supported the Mexico City Policy, which bans federal aid to foreign organizations that provide or promote abortions.

Biden now says he would consider codifying Roe v. Wade into federal law in case the ruling is overturned by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court. His campaign also said he would overturn the Mexico City Policy, which was reinstated in 2017 by President TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' MORE.

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But he has otherwise steered clear from talking about abortion, a topic consuming the Democratic primary as states pass some of the most restrictive bans ever seen in the U.S.

While Biden has condemned Alabama’s law, he hasn’t released a plan that details how he would address such bans as president or how his administration would expand access to abortion.

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“I think he’s frankly out of touch, not just with where other candidates are, but out of touch with where American voters are,” said Destiny Lopez, co-director of the All* Above All Action Fund, an advocacy group that lobbies to expand abortion access and eliminate funding bans.

A recent poll from Morning Consult shows Democratic voters care more about women’s issues in the wake of restrictive state laws.

“The other candidates have recognized we are in a crisis moment in this country,” Lopez said.

With Biden atop the Democratic field in most national polls, his fellow White House hopefuls were quick to weigh in on Wednesday.

Warren and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersAngst grips America's most liberal city Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Democrats say they have the votes to advance .5T budget measure MORE (I-Vt.), who have both campaigned on ending the ban in response to restrictive abortion laws in states like Alabama, took the opportunity to reiterate their positions.

“There is no middle ground on women’s rights,” Sanders tweeted Wednesday.

“Abortion is a constitutional right,” he said, noting that his “Medicare for All,” single-payer health care plan would “repeal the Hyde amendment.” 

Biden’s stance on the Hyde amendment highlights a lifelong struggle to balance politics with his personal beliefs on the issue.

As a devout Catholic who says he personally opposes abortion, Biden supported the Hyde amendment throughout his decades-long career in the Senate. 

So abortion rights groups cheered when he told an activist last month that he wants to end the federal ban.

But his campaign told The Hill on Wednesday that he misunderstood the question and doesn’t actually support ending Hyde, adding that he might be open to reconsidering in the future. 

If Biden wins the presidency, his stance on keeping the Hyde amendment could put him at odds with Democrats in Congress who want to repeal it.

A House bill that would end federal bans on abortion funding has the support of more than half of the House Democratic Caucus.

His position is also antithetical to the Democratic National Committee platform, which calls for a repeal of Hyde.

“This is a constitutional right for women to be able to access abortions and be able to make decisions about their own bodies, and the things that get in the way of that — particularly for those low-income women, for rural women, for women who live in states where those rights have been trampled on — is a serious issue for the entire country,” Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalAngst grips America's most liberal city Congress must lower the Medicare Age to save the lives of older Americans House Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate MORE (D-Wash.), co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters Wednesday.

“I hope our presidential candidate will be bold about recognizing that,” she added.