Lauretta Brown is the Register’s Washington-based staff writer.
Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the political arm of the nation’s largest abortion provider, hosted a “We Decide” forum Saturday where 20 of the 23 Democratic presidential hopefuls spoke about their positions on abortion. As the Register previously noted, the 2020 Democratic field has shifted very far to the left on the issue and largely backs taxpayer-funded abortion up until birth.
The candidates emphasized their opposition to the Hyde Amendment, an appropriations rider that blocks taxpayer funding of abortion. The Hyde Amendment first passed in 1977 and initially just had an exception for the life of the mother, although rape and incest exceptions were added in 1994.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who identifies as Catholic, had to answer for his recent campaign-trail flip-flop on the issue. He had previously supported the Hyde Amendment throughout his political career but changed his stance last month.
“I laid out a health care plan that’s going to provide federally funded health care for all women and women who now are denied even Medicare in their home states,” Biden argued at the forum. “It became really clear to me that although the Hyde Amendment was designed to try to split the difference here, to make sure women still had access, you can’t have access if everyone’s covered by a federal policy.”
“That’s why at the same time I announced that policy, I announced that I could no longer continue to abide by the Hyde Amendment,” he concluded. “That’s the reason.”
New York Mayor Bill De Blasio alluded to Biden’s changed stance on Hyde, saying “Can we just be clear that, if you’re a Democrat you’re against the Hyde Amendment, period, period? No choice.”
This intolerance on the Hyde Amendment is relatively new. However, the Democratic party changed its platform in 2016 to include a call to repeal the amendment. Past Democratic presidential candidates, including Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, all promised on the campaign trail to oppose Hyde, but the ban on the use of federal funds for abortion remains intact with polling showing that the majority of the American public supports the ban.
None of the Democratic candidates directly addressed conscience objections that pro-life Americans might have to their money funding abortion. Instead, the Planned Parenthood forum focused on the personal stories of low-income women who were unable to obtain abortions due to Hyde amendment restrictions on Medicaid funding.
Sen. Bernie Sanders , I-Vt., said that funding abortion was a key part of his Medicare for All plan. “If we're gonna talk about the right of women to control their own lives, yes, abortion rights are part of what ‘Medicare for all’ is.”
Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro said that the Hyde Amendment affects low-income women, claiming that “we have many women and others who need reproductive care who could get an abortion who are sleeping on our streets, who are living in shelters, who are living in public housing.”
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., told those gathered that the Hyde Amendment violates the principle of equal treatment under the law. “We are not treating people equally in our health care system writ large if they don't have money,” she said. “We are talking about often women who are in a state of real anxiety, real vulnerability in terms of needing help.”
Sens. Warren and Booker both argued in strong terms that restrictions on abortion target marginalized and low-income women.
“What’s going on in this country right now is not just an attack on women,” Sen. Warren said. “It’s an attack on women who have fewer resources. It’s a class attack on women. It’s a race attack.”
“I got into politics because there are too many communities who are being left out and left behind,” Sen. Booker said. “And a lot of these assaults on reproductive care are really assaults on low-income women and women in marginalized communities.”
Sen. Gillibrand argued that Americans just needed to have the Hyde Amendment and its impact explained to them. “I think if you do explain this is about low-income women, women of color, having basic access, basic rights, they will understand,” Gillibrand claimed to reporters.
Presidential hopeful Rep. Seth Moulton made an even more extreme claim on CNN earlier this month about changing the minds of Americans who were opposed to their taxpayer dollars going to abortion. He began by comparing the funding of abortions to funding the troops.
“It's sort of like saying, you know, I support the troops but don't want to pay them,” Moulton said. “That's the analogy here and I think it's wrong.”
“Leadership is not following the polls, it's changing public opinion to do the right thing,” he added. “That’s what leadership is all about and that's what we should expect in our next president.”
Despite the strong rhetoric from the 2020 Democratic candidates pushing to repeal Hyde, House Democrats recently passed an appropriations bill that included the amendment. Politico also pointed out that many in the 2020 Democratic field, including Sens. Warren, Gillibrand and Booker recently voted for a funding bill that included the Hyde Amendment. The political reality is that the amendment will likely remain in place for the time being.
Pro-life groups have been quick to respond to the 2020 candidates’ extremism on issues like the Hyde Amendment.
Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the Susan B. Anthony List, told the Wall Street Journal that the candidates’ opposition to the Hyde Amendment was an “extreme pandering to the most fringe elements of the party.”
“It’s going to be a political vulnerability for whoever the candidate is in the general election, especially against someone like President Trump, who has made his pro-life commitments and his pro-life accomplishments a key part of his campaign,” she claimed.
During the 2020 Democratic primary debates this week, March for Life Action is airing a commercial highlighting the extremism of the Democrats’ position on Hyde and on late-term abortion.
Alyssa Murphy contributed to this blog.