Reproductive Rights are Not Up for Negotiation

Joe Biden, the current frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic nomination, has been in public life for over four decades. He has held numerous viewpoints during this time --  some that have evolved with the times,and some that seem stuck in the 1970s. Well-known for his gaffes and “everyman” style, Biden complemented Obama’s aloof, Harvard-professor relaxed manner  during his time as vice president.

He accidentally said embarrassing things on the campaign trail. He made finger guns during the State of the Union. He flubbed his speeches. In a famous gaffe, he asked a wheelchair-bound state legislator to “stand up” in front of a crowd.

But Biden’s electoral issues don’t end with his meme-able mistakes. Women make up a disproportionate number of primary votes for the Democratic party, and Biden has a well-documented history of laxity on women’s reproductive rights. While he pioneered the Violence Against Women Act, which created the first federal laws surrounding domestic violence, his concern for women’s rights seemingly doesn’t extend to fighting for reproductive justice.

Biden himself has long said that he supports the legal right to abortion but does not personally support the practice.

This is a perfectly acceptable position -- one that many genuinely pro-choice people share. However, his previous support of the Hyde Amendment, an amendment that bars the use of federal funds for abortion services except in instances of rape, incest or health risk, is a sticking point for many pro-choice activist groups.

The Hyde Amendment took effect in 1976 and works by making abortion access nearly impossible for women on government-sponsored health plans like Medicare and Medicaid, women in the military, Native American women on federal reservations, women living in Washington, D.C. and women in federal detention centers and prisons.

Oftentimes, these women are the most vulnerable and seek abortions for financial or safety reasons. In June of this year, Biden renounced support of the Hyde Amendment but refused to apologize for his past position.

Biden is also soft on another key aspect of reproductive rights and women’s health: birth control access. As vice president, he was a major figure in the passage of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s marquee healthcare initiative that made government-sponsored healthcare an option for millions of Americans.

A provision in the bill ensured that employer-sponsored birth control programs would have to cover birth control measures, angering religious institutions that felt their religious freedom was infringed upon.

After the bill was passed, reports surfaced that Biden fought for the birth control provision to be taken out. This was attributed to his fear that some senators wouldn’t support the bill with this provision, as well as concern that it would alienate conservatives even further.

What Biden seemingly wasn’t concerned with, however, were the millions of women who would lose access to affordable contraceptive measures and be denied a basic aspect health coverage. 

At a time when women’s rights and reproductive health are under serious attack, we need a president who will make us a priority. Giving up key aspects of women’s reproductive rights in an attempt to gain cheap political accolades is simply an unacceptable trade-off. Among the Democratic primary candidates, Biden makes one of the weakest cases for his support of reproductive rights. 

None of this is to say Joe Biden is evil -- the alternatives in the Republican Party would almost certainly try to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the landmark pro-choice Supreme Court case.

Biden is an effective politician with some questionable positions in his past, as are most people who survive in politics for so many decades.

If he wins the nomination, I still plan to vote for him in the general election without wavering on my demand for reproductive rights -- campaign surveys, letter-writing and voting for down-ballot candidates who strongly support my rights would all be effective ways of holding Biden accountable. But for now, I plan to put my energy, money and support into a candidate who will fight fiercely for the reproductive rights of all Americans.