Joe Biden said Tuesday that he had not reversed his long-held position in favor of a measure that bans federal funds from being used for most abortions as a matter of political expediency.
The former vice president suggested his new stance would be unpopular in a general election.
Democrats broadly oppose the Hyde Amendment. Biden had long favored it, but he reversed his position last week after two days of criticism from his Democratic rivals for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
When asked in an interview with WHO-TV’s Dave Price on Tuesday in Ottumwa, whether his shifting view was based on a political calculation, Biden replied: “It’s a legitimate criticism for them to look at.”
“The truth is, the majority of the American people agree with the Hyde Amendment, OK?” Biden said. “So the idea that this would be helpful to change is not accurate in terms of being able to win an election.”
Biden campaigned in Iowa on Tuesday, where he was interrupted several times by anti-abortion protesters.
He told reporters he would still back the Hyde Amendment if women of all incomes could access abortions. But as largely Republican-led states implement strict new restrictions on abortion rights – potentially setting the Supreme Court up to reconsider Roe v. Wade – he said he had changed his position because that access does not currently exist.
He said that as he developed his campaign’s health care plan, which would funnel more people into government-funded and subsidized plans, poorer women would be left without health insurance that covered abortions – making it untenable to keep the federal ban in place.
“How do you say no? You can’t use – there would be no way for a poor woman to be able to exercise her constitutional right, and that’s what the decision was, because I was finalizing that plan, we laid it out and that was the decision I made,” Biden said.
He cited “the all-out attack across the board on Roe v. Wade, the elimination of almost any exception that was available” in some Southern states where Republicans this year have enacted strict abortion laws.
When a reporter asked why that was more clear at the end of last week, when Biden changed his mind, than it was at the beginning, when he still wanted to keep the Hyde Amendment in place, he responded: “Yeah, don’t be a wise guy with me.”
“I didn’t consult with anybody but me in that decision because I was sitting on the way down finalizing the plan, and what hit me was we’re in a situation where when the assault was going on in Georgia, what’s going on in Alabama, Missouri, it’s just outrageous,” Biden said.
“And, look, I made a commitment that I would not ever attempt to impose my religious views on anyone else in terms of how it relates to this most unique question in all of humanity: When does the human life begin? When does that occur?” he said. “And so I’m not going to do that, and conversely I find myself in a position, how do you say to now the women who are in poverty that increasingly have no access to women’s health care? How do you say, ‘Well, guess what, it’s gone, it’s gone’? So that’s the reason why I made that decision.”