But one candidate apparently disagrees. On Wednesday morning, Joe Biden’s presidential campaign confirmed to NBC News that the former vice president still supports the Hyde Amendment, a 40-year-old law that bans federal taxpayer dollars from funding abortions for people who rely on Medicaid. While Biden is leading his fellow Democratic presidential hopefuls in the polls, he is the only candidate who holds this position. Biden’s position on this issue should disqualify him from contention for the nomination. The Hyde Amendment is an immoral, dangerous policy. And, during a year in which Democrats value victory over almost everything else, wavering on abortion is very bad politics.
Earlier in the campaign, Biden appeared to commit to ending Hyde, and NBC News reported that he would be “open to repealing Hyde if abortion avenues currently protected under Roe were threatened.” In a statement to NBC News, Biden’s campaign clarified that the former vice president still supports the amendment. As a senator, Biden twice voted to remove provisions from the amendment that would make exceptions for women who had been victims of rape or incest.
But those avenues to safe and legal abortion are being threatened, right now. Twenty-six abortion bans have been enacted across 12 states in 2019, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Since the beginning of the year, 15 states have either introduced, moved or enacted six-week abortion bans. Alabama banned abortion in all circumstances, except those in which continuing a pregnancy would threaten the life or health of the pregnant woman.
Thanks to targeted restrictions on abortion providers, which are intended to make it more difficult for clinics that provide abortion care to continue to operate, and thanks to other antiabortion laws and regulations, 90 percent of U.S. counties don’t have an abortion provider. Missouri is poised to become the first state in the country to no longer have an abortion provider, and six states have just one clinic that provides abortions.
These and other abortion bans, including a ban on using federal funds to pay for abortion care, disproportionately affect black, brown and poor people living in rural areas. Pregnant women of color face higher rates of discrimination and income inequality and are more likely to rely on Medicaid for health insurance as a result. To continue to withhold federal funds from those seeking a common, safe, constitutionally protected medical procedure is to force poor people into pregnancy.
The harm done to these women doesn’t end there. Studies have shown states with the highest number of abortion restrictions also have the worst maternal and infant mortality rates. And since the maternal mortality rate is on the rise in the United States, and black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, denying access to affordable abortion care can have lethal consequences.
But not only is supporting the Hyde Amendment, in no uncertain terms, cruel, it is also politically disastrous, especially in this environment. Keeping abortion legal in broad terms is popular among Americans: Seventy-one percent think Roe v. Wade should not be overturned, according to a recent poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal. That figure includes 88 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans.
In 2016, a poll of voters in key battleground states found that 76 percent of voters agreed with the following statement: “However we feel about abortion, politicians should not be allowed to deny a woman’s health coverage for it just because she’s poor.” Sixty-two percent agreed that “when Medicaid covers pregnancy care but withholds coverage for abortion, we’re taking away a low-income woman’s ability to make important personal decisions based on what is best for her circumstances.” And a recent poll commissioned by a consortium of women’s health groups found that 9 in 10 women of color believe “that a woman being able to control if, when, and how to have children provides both individual and societal benefits.”
If Joe Biden wants to carry the banner of a party that claims to champion, protect and uphold the inalienable rights of black, brown and poor people, he must reverse his support of the Hyde Amendment and follow the lead of his fellow Democratic candidates. Anything less would be the former vice president throwing under the bus the people whose support he needs most directly, at a moment when they are uniquely vulnerable. These positions may not stop Biden from getting the Democratic Party’s nomination. But they make him unfit to lead.