Joe Biden set himself apart from his Democratic competitors Tuesday by affirming his support for the Hyde Amendment, a law barring federal funds for abortion services, except in the cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger.
The former vice president’s campaign team told NBC News that Biden does not support repealing the 1976 law, which has become unpopular with Democratic candidates this election cycle.
The statement differentiated him from 2020 frontrunners like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg—all of whom have pledged to repeal the amendment. It also set him at odds with the 2016 Democratic platform, which specifically called for a repeal of the Hyde Amendment, putting him in a potentially awkward position should he become the 2020 nominee.
“We are committed to our official Democratic Party platform, which is very clear on this issue. We support every woman's fundamental right to make decisions about her own body with her doctor and the repeal of the Hyde Amendment,” said Elizabeth Renda, DNC Women’s Media Director.
The announcement also drew outcry from reproductive-rights groups, who feel the law unfairly bars low-income women from accessing abortion. Even groups that generally do not speak out against other Democrats, such as Emily's List, NARAL and Planned Parenthood, put out statement's condemning it.
"At a time when reproductive rights are under consistent attack, it's unacceptable that a major Democratic nominee supports the Hyde Amendment," Emily's List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement. "We hope that Vice President Joe Biden will reconsider this position and what it means to millions of women."
A source at Emily's List told The Daily Beast that they typically do not go after other Democrats, but that Biden's comments were so far outside of the party's stance they felt compelled to respond. A source inside a reproductive rights organization said they felt called to comment because they hadn't seen such a stark departure from a Democratic candidate so far, and wanted supporters to know they would not change their position.
The comment also elicited confusion, as Biden told an ACLU volunteer just last month that he would commit to abolishing the law. “It can’t stay,” he said at the time.
But Biden’s campaign said Tuesday, according to CNN, that the former vice president misheard that volunteer and thought she was referring to the Mexico City Rule, which requires foreign non-governmental organizations certify they do not support or provide abortion services before receiving U.S. funding.
As such, the campaign said, Biden has not changed his opinion on Hyde.
Biden—a devout Roman Catholic—personally opposes abortion, but is more liberal when it comes to reproductive rights as public policy. He previously believed that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, but now says he supports the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion across the country. He recently decried state laws prohibiting abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.
The ex-veep voted in favor of the Hyde Amendment throughout his Senate career, but has recently faced calls to change his position as public opinion has turned against the law.
“There’s no political or ideological excuse for Joe Biden’s support for the Hyde Amendment, which translates into discrimination against poor women and women of color plain and simple," NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement.
"Differentiating himself from the field this way will not earn Joe Biden any political points and will bring harm to women who are already most vulnerable.”