Joe Biden Defends His Hyde Amendment Flip & His Record Of Supporting Abortion Rights

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With the 2020 Democratic primary now officially in full gear, former Vice President Joe Biden sought to defend his record on abortion rights during a presidential candidate forum hosted Saturday by Planned Parenthood. In fact, as part of that defense, Biden explained why he flipped on the Hyde Amendment, saying it was his health care policy — and not the very public criticism he received from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and reproductive rights groups — that made him change his mind.

"I laid out a health care plan that's going to provide federally-funded health care for all women and women who now are denied even Medicare in their home states," Biden said. "It became really clear to me that although the Hyde Amendment was designed to try to split the difference here, to make sure women still had access, you can't have access if, in fact, everyone's covered by a federal policy. That’s why at the same time, I announced that policy, I announced that I could no longer continue to abide by the Hyde Amendment. That’s the reason."

Up until a few weeks ago, Biden was the only 2020 Democratic candidate to support the Hyde Amendment, a budget rider barring federal funds, such as those supplied through Medicaid, from covering abortion-related costs except in cases of rape, incest or when necessary to save the pregnant person's life. Although not a permanent law — it's attached to appropriation bills every year — the Hyde Amendment has been around for more than 40 years.

In early June, after significant pushback and public criticism from abortion rights advocates and fellow Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez, Biden reversed his support for the Hyde Amendment, The Hill reported. "If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone's ZIP code," he said.

At Saturday's Planned Parenthood candidate forum, Biden sought to drive home his support for abortion rights, saying, "There's no rationale that can be offered that if you're covered by the federal system, you cannot then use federal funding to seek reproductive health care rights."

The former vice president also appeared to push back on one moderator's claim he had a "mixed record" when it came to supporting "sexual and reproductive health."

"First of all, I'm not sure about the 'mixed record' part. I've had a 100% voting record with you—" he said before his mic briefly cut out.

It's worth mentioning, however, that as Mother Jones has pointed out, Biden's early voting record on abortion rights isn't as strong as he appears to be claiming. In 1982, for example, Biden voted in the Senate Judiciary Committee to support a proposed constitutional amendment that would have overturned Roe v. Wade, the magazine reported.

When his mic was restored, Biden laid out his plans for protecting abortion access should he be elected president. "I would immediately extend health care to everyone," he said, adding that he would then "eliminate all the changes that this president made to our attempts to make Title X [Family Planning Program] rational and reasonable." The former vice president also said he would codify Roe v. Wade into federal law and expressed support for getting rid of the Mexico City Policy "all the way." The Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule, prohibits U.S. funds from being allocated to any foreign non-governmental organization that provides abortion services, counseling, or even just information on abortion.

"What we should be doing is investing a great deal more money in the entirety of how we deal with women's health care and making it available across the spectrum," Biden said.