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Joe Biden’s past views on abortion aren’t as uncommon among Americans as some might believe

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, on June 5 said she would work to overturn the Hyde Amendment if elected president. (Video: Reuters)
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Former vice president Joe Biden has long been more conservative than many Democrats on the issue of abortion. The former lawmaker has often cited his Catholic faith when sharing his politics on the issue.

In his 2007 book, “Promises to Keep,” Biden said: “My position is that I am personally opposed to abortion, but I don’t think I have a right to impose my few on the rest of society. I’ve thought a lot about it, and my position probably doesn’t please anyone.

“I’ve stuck to my middle-of-the-road position on abortion for more than 30 years. I still vote against partial birth abortion and federal funding, and I’d like to make it easier for scared young mothers to choose not to have an abortion, but I will also vote against a constitutional amendment that strips a woman of her right to make her own choice,” he wrote.

The Biden campaign issued a statement Wednesday announcing that unlike many of the other Democrats running for president, he is not calling for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which restricts the use of federal money to pay for abortions.

This worldview concerned some on the left then, and it certainly does now -- which is likely why Biden announced that he was changing his position.

The Washington Post’s Colby Itkowitz reported that Biden said Thursday that he no longer supports a ban on federal funding for abortions a day after sharp criticism from campaign rivals and key Democratic interest groups.

It was clear earlier this week that Biden’s position hadn’t changed — even as some on the left may be more adamant than ever about protecting women’s right to access abortion services.

But in a climate where many on the right are admittedly working to end women’s right to an abortion, many on the left saw no room in their party — and certainly not at the top of the 2020 ticket — for Biden’s previous stance on the issue.

2020 Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke on June 5 said he would repeal the Hyde Amendment if elected president. (Video: Reuters)

Ilyse Hogue, president of the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement that Biden’s support for the amendment “translates into discrimination against poor women and women of color plain and simple.”

“Biden’s position on this issue should disqualify him from contention for the nomination,” Hogue said. “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.

“His position further endangers women and families already facing enormous hurdles and creates two classes of rights for people in this country, which is inherently undemocratic,” she said.

Despite that view, Biden’s previous stance on abortion was more consistent with the voters some Democrats believe they need to win if they are going to beat President Trump in 2020.

Most Americans — nearly 6 in 10 — say abortion should be legal in most cases, according to the Pew Research Center. Even most Catholics — 51 percent — say, like Biden, that abortion should be legal in most cases.

But just because many Americans support keeping abortion legal doesn’t mean they support tax dollars funding the procedure. Many Americans share Biden’s view on federal funding, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. Four in 10 Americans -- including 34 percent of Democrats -- favor a policy that blocks federal funds from going to organizations that provide abortions, even though those funds cannot be used for abortions.

Biden was attracting the ire of the left’s base with his earlier comments on abortion, but it probably would not have hurt him with many of the voters he’s trying to win — independents and centrists who are uncomfortable with the liberal politics of the Democratic base and the religious nationalism often associated with social conservatives.