DETROIT (BP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden defended his recent reversal on taxpayer funding of abortion during a second Democratic presidential debate that barely broached the controversial issue.
Biden’s reversal has wiped out any hopes pro-life Democrats may have had for a moderate on the issue among leading contenders to be their party’s nominee. The Democratic field is filled with only abortion rights supporters.
While President Trump was the primary target for criticism, Biden found himself frequently challenged by other candidates Wednesday (July 31) on the second night of the latest debate in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. The debate — involving 10 candidates on July 30 and another 10 the next evening in Detroit — was the second of a planned 12 debates as the party selects its nominee for the 2020 election.
During Wednesday’s debate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California questioned Biden’s newly announced opposition to the Hyde Amendment. Biden supported the ban on federal funding of abortions through the Medicaid program while in the Senate, and his campaign reiterated his support for it in early June. After strong criticism, Biden reversed that position within 48 hours.
“Do you now say that you have evolved and you regret that?” Harris asked Biden, according to a transcript provided by NBC News. “Because you have only, since you’ve been running for president this time, said that … you didn’t agree with the decision that you made over many, many years.
“Why did it take so long until you were running for president to change your position on the Hyde?”
In his reply, Biden provided a somewhat confusing answer and reaffirmed his support for abortion rights.
“Because there was not full federal funding for all reproductive services prior to this point,” he told Harris.
“The Hyde Amendment in the past was available because there was other access for those kinds of services provided privately.”
Biden said, “I support a woman’s right to choose. I support it’s a constitutional right. I’ve supported it, and I will continue to support it, and I will, in fact, move as president to see to it that the Congress legislates that that is the law as well.”
The vice president to President Obama from 2009-2017 voted on the pro-life side not only on the Hyde Amendment but on other legislation while in the Senate.
The Hyde Amendment — which became the general label for such bans on federal health programs and is named after its sponsor, the late Republican Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois — has saved the lives of more than 2 million unborn babies, the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute estimated on the law’s 40th anniversary in 2016.
A Politico/Morning Consult survey performed immediately after Biden’s switch showed 49 percent of American voters support Hyde, while 32 percent oppose it and 19 percent have no opinion. A McLaughlin & Associates poll conducted later in June for the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List found 55 percent of voters support a ban on Medicaid funding of abortion, including 35 percent of Democratic voters.
Some abortion rights advocates protested the lack of questions regarding abortion during the second Democratic debate. Planned Parenthood Action — the advocacy arm of the country’s leading abortion provider — complained “there was not one question on abortion access or reproductive health care” in a tweet after the first night of the debate.
A three-person panel from CNN asked questions on similar issues both nights of the second debate. Among the topics addressed on both nights were health care, immigration, race relations, climate change, foreign policy and the economy.
While liberals, also referred to as progressives, dominate the Democratic field, the debate demonstrated a division on some policy issues.
On health care, candidates such as New Hampshire Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke in favor of a universal coverage proposal known as Medicare for All, while others — including Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock — expressed opposition.
Regarding immigration, some candidates — such as South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Julian Castro, secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama — made clear they support decriminalizing the illegal crossing of the U.S. border. Others, including Biden and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, expressed opposition to dropping illegal entry as a crime.
When discussing the economy, Buttigieg charged some Christians in Congress with disobeying the Bible while he called for a higher minimum wage. “[S]o-called conservative Christian senators right now in the Senate are blocking a bill to raise the minimum wage, when Scripture says that whoever oppresses the poor taunts their Maker,” Buttigieg said.
He apparently was citing Proverbs 14:31, which says, “The one who oppresses the poor person insults his Maker, but one who is kind to the needy honors him.”
Some opponents of raising the minimum wage contend, however, that increasing it would actually reduce the hiring of some workers.
The next debate is scheduled for Sept. 12 in Houston and, if enough candidates qualify, Sept. 13. The criteria established by the Democratic National Committee to participate in the debates is based on a candidate’s standing in the polls and his or her number of donors.