The presidential campaign of Joe Biden, the clear front runner in the Democratic field, acknowledged on Wednesday, June 5, that its candidate still believed that it was proper to prohibit the use of Medicaid to pay for abortions in situations that do not involve rape, incest, or protection of the life of the mother. Biden had to abandon this position the following day, in the face of a firestorm.
Biden has been in politics for a long time and over those decades he has taken a number of very public positions. One of the disadvantages of that situation is that one is subject to demands that one either disavow a certain stance or defend it: and there may be tactical disadvantages to either course.
The Hyde amendment was passed three and a half years after the US Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade. Biden was in his early 30s at the time, and a fresh first-term face on the floor of the US Senate. He supported the Hyde amendment.
Biden, a Roman Catholic, has long held to a position on abortion that seems equivocal to some. In 1986, an official at Planned Parenthood wrote, “Joe Biden moans a lot and then usually votes against us.” He is not anti-abortion, but he has voted as though abortions should not be prohibited yet need not be paid for by either the United States or its states.
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The Democratic Party has become less hospitable to that position in the new millennium than it was in the final decades of the last one. As this became clear, Biden executed a hasty retreat, saying on June 6 that he could no longer support legislation that makes the right to access to health care “dependent on someone’s zip code.”