Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Biden’s Debate Comments on the Hyde Amendment Made No Sense


During this week’s Democratic presidential debates, the moderators paid relatively little attention to sanctity of life issues. Instead, they focused on policies like health care, immigration, and foreign policy — issues where there exists some disagreement among the Democrats running for president. That said, on Wednesday night, there was an interesting exchange on the Hyde Amendment between Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Vice President Joe Biden. This exchange revealed that Biden is either unaware of how the Hyde Amendment works or was being deliberately deceptive.

Unsurprisingly, Harris sharply criticized Biden for his past support of the Hyde Amendment. She argued that for years Biden knowingly withheld “resources to poor women to have reproductive health care.” Harris went on to criticize Biden for changing his position on the Hyde Amendment only when he decided to run for president. In his response, Biden stated that he supported the Hyde Amendment in the past because “there was other access for abortion services provided privately.” However, it is by no means clear what alternative abortion funding Biden was referencing.

Here is some background. The Hyde Amendment is a rider to the annual Health and Human Services appropriations bill which limits the ability of the federal government to fund elective abortions through Medicaid. It was first passed in 1976 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1980. Whenever the Hyde Amendment has been in effect, states have had the ability to use their own taxpayer dollars to fund elective abortions through Medicaid. However, for the 35 states that do not fund elective abortions through Medicaid, there has never been a consistent, alternative source of funding for abortions — public or private. Furthermore, studies show when states quit funding abortions through Medicaid, abortion rates decline. This shows the Hyde Amendment has had a real impact. 

During his time as a U.S. senator, Joe Biden, like many Democrats, supported the Hyde Amendment. When he changed his position this summer, it was certainly not the first time that an elected official has switched positions on a contentious issue. And politically, Biden’s position switch made some sense. The Democratic Party has certainly shifted to the left on sanctity of life issues during the past several years. 

That said, Biden should defend his new position. He should not deceive the public by wrongly claiming that while supporting the Hyde Amendment as a Senator, there existed other funding mechanisms for elective abortions. Voters deserve better.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Michael New

Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor at The Catholic University of America. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.

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