A West Virginia woman told Joe Biden that access to abortion “saved my life” as she pressed the former vice president over his position on the Hyde Amendment in a powerful exchange at a Planned Parenthood forum here Saturday.
Biden recently dropped his long-held opposition to allowing government programs to pay for abortions.
The 2020 Democratic frontrunner’s reversal came after intense criticism from Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion rights groups – and put the spotlight on Biden this weekend as he and 21 other presidential contenders attend a series of events in South Carolina.
At Planned Parenthood’s forum, Biden said the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion should be made federal law – a move that would shield it from court challenges. He also said he would push to expand Medicare coverage to include low-income women whose states rejected Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, and that abortions should be included in that coverage.
In an emotional moment, a West Virginia woman told Biden that “generations of women in situations like mine have suffered because of the Hyde Amendment.”
Peshka Calloway, a 32-year-old Army veteran, single mother and community organizer, told Biden she had been a victim of both military sexual assault and abuse.
Calloway said her military health coverage does not pay for abortions. She said she’d had three abortions paid for by Medicaid – but after a recent change to the state’s constitution, women in her position would no longer be able to receive the same coverage.
“My bodily autonomy is precious to me, and that’s why I’m here telling you the most personal story of my life for the first time,” she told Biden.
She claimed she’d had two more pregnancies before finding a method of birth control that worked for her body.
“Without access to abortion, I wouldn’t have graduated college,” she said. “I would still be on Medicaid and food stamps today. I wouldn’t have sought treatment for my PTSD, my anxiety, and my depression, And I wouldn’t be the person that I am today.”
“A lot of you women, and maybe a lot of men out here, don’t realize what incredible courage it took to stand up and say that,” Biden responded.
He pointed to his role as author of the Violence Against Women Act and said he understood that for women to share their stories of assault meant reliving them.
“For you to stand and recall that brings it all back immediately – it brings it back, and it’s hard, so I just got to compliment you for your courage,” Biden said.
He asked to speak to Calloway privately after he left the stage.
The two spoke one-on-one, Calloway said in an interview. She wouldn’t detail what Biden told her.
“(Biden) centered himself on fighting for victims, assault and domestic violence victims, and so we had a discussion about that. The discussion we had – I’m pretty pleased with,” she said.
During the Planned Parenthood forum, Calloway said she was unable to obtain coverage for abortion through Tricare, the government-run health care program for military members, veterans and their dependents.
The other avenue for low-income women to receive coverage for abortions in West Virginia – which Calloway said she used – was closed last year.
In West Virginia, the state Supreme Court had ruled in 1993 that low-income women had the right to abortions paid for by Medicaid. But voters in 2018 approved an amendment to the West Virginia Constitution to undo that ruling. The amendment says that “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.”
Calloway said she would not have been able to afford abortions on her own, and relied on coverage through West Virginia’s Medicaid program.
“And now because of the Hyde Amendment, women in West Virginia who rely on Medicaid are left to plead for help for their partners or family who may not be supportive or forgo paying their bills to simply be unable to afford the care that they need,” Calloway said.
“I have met some of these women. I have helped and fought for some of these women. And I promise you,” a crying Calloway said, “their pain is real. And their experiences are real and it would break your heart.”
“Across the country, generations of women in situations like mine have suffered because of the Hyde Amendment – because it is in place,” she said.
This story has been updated.