Bernie and Biden Compare Abortion Credentials During Heated Debate
The last two men still standing in the Democratic presidential primary faced off Sunday evening in an audience-free televised debate.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and former Vice President Joe Biden clashed Sunday evening in their eagerness to show their support for taxpayer-funded abortion. In a somber and audience-free debate that largely focused on the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak, Sanders brought up Biden’s inconsistent record on the abortion issue.
“Joe, you have in the past on more than one occasion voted for the Hyde Amendment, which says that a woman, low-income woman, could not use Medicaid funding for an abortion,” Sanders said. “Is that still your view?”
“It's not my view,” Biden replied. “And by the way, everybody who has been in the Congress voted for the Hyde Amendment at one point or another because it was locked in other bills.”
Biden’s initial response is interesting given that his support for the Hyde Amendment went far beyond voting for the language in certain bills, he definitively supported the restriction on taxpayer-funded abortion up until June 2019.
In 1981, he authored an amendment that banned the use of foreign-aid funding to pay for biomedical research involving abortion. And in 2010, Biden used his support for the Hyde Amendment in an attempt to sway pro-lifers in Congress to back Obamacare.
He explained to Jake Tapper on ABC at the time that “I assured them, and this will not allow you to take any subsidized government money you get and say, “with that money I'm going to go now I can go purchase an insurance plan that provides for abortions.’” He told them that the Hyde Amendment principle is “intact.”
Up through June 2019 Biden’s campaign continued to state his support for the Hyde Amendment, until he abruptly reversed his stance saying, “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.”
Biden repeated that explanation on the debate stage Sunday explaining, “The reason why I affirmatively came out opposed to the Hyde Amendment was that if we're going to have public funding for all health care along the line, there's no way you could allow for there to be a requirement that you have Hyde Amendment, a woman who doesn't have the money could not have coverage under health care.”
“I would send immediately to the desk of the United States Congress, when I'm elected president -- if I'm elected president, a codification of Roe v. Wade amended by Casey, because I think it is a woman's right to choose,” Biden added. “I think it's a woman's opportunity to be able to make that decision.”
Codifying Roe v. Wade would make abortion access a federal law rather than Supreme Court precedent, which would limit states’ ability to make restrictions on abortion.
Biden also pointed out that he had a 100% rating from the abortion advocacy group NARAL, prompting Sanders to ask if that was a lifetime 100% rating.
“I know my record of late from NARAL has been 100%,” Biden replied. “I don't know whether it was 25 years ago.” Biden’s NARAL ratings were 100% in 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2006. However, in 1996 he received a 43% rating from the group and earned a 36% rating from them in 2003.
Touting his own consistent 100% rating since 1996, Sanders argued, “I have been consistent. All right? I have always believed in that. And you have not. I'm glad you have changed your views.”
While Sanders has received positive ratings from the abortion advocacy group, he did draw criticism from them in 2017 when he defended campaigning alongside Omaha, Nebraska, mayoral candidate Heath Mello who had voted in support of state pro-life legislation. NARAL called the move “not only disappointing,” but “politically stupid.”
He defended his choice to NPR saying, "The truth is that in some conservative states there will be candidates that are popular candidates who may not agree with me on every issue. I understand it. That's what politics is about.”
"If we are going to protect a woman's right to choose, at the end of the day we're going to need Democratic control over the House and the Senate, and state governments all over this nation," he said at the time. "And we have got to appreciate where people come from, and do our best to fight for the pro-choice agenda. But I think you just can't exclude people who disagree with us on one issue."
However, Sanders was not consistent on that position. During a recent MSNBC town hall on abortion, he said, “being pro-choice is an absolutely essential part of being a Democrat,” when asked if there was such a thing as a pro-life Democrat. “By this time in history, I think when we talk about what a Democrat is, I think being pro-choice is an essential part of that,” he emphasized.