Joe Biden and Henry Hyde

By Susan Estrich

June 13, 2019 4 min read

Of course he was for the Hyde Amendment, the federal law that blocks Medicaid funding from being used for abortion. He even fought against a rape and incest exception. He proposed his own Biden amendment to block foreign aid from being used for biomedical research related to abortion. He was one of two Democrats who supported an effort to allow states to block Roe v. Wade.

After a video of the candidate answering a question on a rope line surfaced that suggested he no longer supports Hyde, his campaign immediately corrected that. "He has not at this point changed his position on the Hyde Amendment," the campaign said.

The statement went on to say that "given the current draconian attempts to limit access to abortion, if avenues for women to access their protected rights under Roe v. Wade are closed, he would be open to repeal."

That was the sentence that got me. The Hyde Amendment has effectively blocked access to abortion since 1976. The war on Planned Parenthood has been going on for almost as long. The victims have always been the most vulnerable. Does Minnesota have to lose its last clinic?

Roe v. Wade is grounded in the recognition of a constitutional right to privacy. That means there is a sphere where you get to decide for yourself, where it's your choice, not the government's. If Roe is the law of the land — and it is, as Biden did confirm this week — then it follows that the government doesn't get a vote on your decision. The government doesn't save money by blocking access; pregnancy, with potential complications and further support, costs far more. What the Hyde Amendment does is impose its moral views on a decision that is supposed to be yours.

And then, after 40 years, in the space of a matter of a day, he changed his mind. "If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent of someone's zip code," he said — which has been true since 1976.

At the same time, Biden said he was not repudiating his previous position and would make "no apologies" for his past votes.

"This is about health care, not politics," his official spokesmen said.

Obviously, it was all about politics. Biden's position was entirely out of sync with the 2019 Democratic Party's.

So he changed it.

This is not good, politically speaking. It plays directly to Biden's vulnerabilities. Back in my day, which will surely be dug up and replayed countless times, Biden got trapped not only by repeating a speech given by a British political candidate but by a whole series of small lies that didn't even matter. He didn't graduate in the top of his law school class, and he didn't receive a full academic scholarship. He didn't get three undergraduate degrees; he got one, with a double major. It went on and on.

I understand the argument that Joe Biden has the best chance against Donald Trump. But he will have no chance if he gives the president the opportunity to brand him with overnight conversions that are so plainly political. The problem with having a lot of experience is that you have a long record, of votes and of mistakes. Biden's past offers plenty of flash points. He will either own them, take responsibility, admit mistakes and build his own lemonade stand, or it will be clear that he does not in fact have the best chance against Trump. The primaries will make him or break him.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: World Economic Forum

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