WATCH: Elizabeth Warren Gives Devastating Answer on Joe Biden and Abortion Rights
Massachusetts Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren delivered a politically crushing response to former Vice President and Democratic rival Joe Biden’s position on a key abortion rights issue, framing his support for a ban on federal funding for abortion care in the starkest of terms.
At Wednesday night’s MSNBC town hall, All In with Chris Hayes host Chris Hayes asked Warren about Biden’s recent expression of support for the so-called Hyde Amendment.
“There was an interesting thing that happened today, the former Vice President Joe Biden came out and said that he would not support repealing the Hyde Amendment,” Hayes said, and explained “That is a provision of federal law that bars of the federal government from funding abortion services for Medicare and Medicaid and others.”
“You disagree with that position,” Hayes said, to which Warren replied “Yes I do.”
“Is Joe Biden wrong?” Hayes asked.
Without hesitation, Warren replied with an emphatic “Yes.”
“Why is he wrong?” Hayes asked.
“Here’s how I look at this,” Warren said. “I’ve lived in an America where abortions were illegal, and understand this: Women still got abortions. Now, some got lucky on what happened, and some got really unlucky on what happened. But the bottom line is they were there.”
“And under the Hyde Amendment, under every one of these efforts to try to chip away or to push back or to get rid of Roe versus Wade, understand this,” Warren continued. “Women of means will still have access to abortions.”
“Who won’t will be poor women, will be working women, will be women who can’t afford to take off 3 days from work,” Warren said, emotion building in her voice. “Will be very young women, will be women who have been raped, will be women who have been molested by someone in their own family. We do not pass laws that take away that freedom from the women who are most vulnerable.”
The audience applauded the response uproariously, and when Hayes noted that unlike the recent draconian laws in Georgia and Alabama, Hyde “has been law for a while,” Warren said “It’s been the law for a while, and it’s been wrong for a long time. Because it really is, it’s just discrimination.”
Hayes then pushed Warren on the politics of the issue, citing polling that shows “muddled views on abortion,” and asked “What do you say to someone who says no, this is the smart political move if you need to win in a general election, to support the Hyde Amendment?”
“This is not about politics,” Warren said. “What this is about is about healthcare, about reproductive freedom, about economic freedom, and about equal opportunity for all women.”
Since the news about Biden and Hyde surfaced Wednesday, Democrats have been dogpiling on Biden on the issue, but Warren’s response — aside from being a powerful and unambiguous condemnation of Biden’s position — has the benefit of visuals that tweets and written statements lack.
And Hayes’ devil’s advocacy analysis misses two crucial points, the first being that Biden is not currently in a general election, he’s trying to win a Democratic primary with an electorate that is generally supportive of abortion rights. On top of that, the issue of reproductive freedom has risen in the minds of Democratic voters, particularly women, given the escalating attacks on abortion rights that have dominated the news this year.
The second problem is that polling on Hyde is somewhat scarce, and difficult to draw conclusions on in a general election.
The most recent poll I could find was from October of 2016, and it found that 58 percent opposed repealing Hyde, versus 36 who favored it. In that same poll, though, 57 percent of Hillary Clinton voters supported repealing it, versus 19 percent of Donald Trump voters. The poll did not measure independent voters on the question. And since the issue is polled so infrequently, it’s tough to know what effect the wording of the question has on the answer.
Another problem with polling on Hyde is that it doesn’t measure intensity, the degree to which an issue will change votes. Logic would dictate that supporting Hyde isn’t likely to flip many Republicans, while alienating Democrats who are hyper-engaged on the issue of abortion rights at the moment. But what about the average American?
Well, according to a 2017 Kaiser Family Foundation poll, the overwhelming majority of Americans don’t even know Hyde exists. Only 33% of respondents knew there was a ban on federal funding of abortion care, while 45% said there definitely was not a ban, and the rest just didn’t know. Betting that support for a law that nobody knows exists will get you votes in a general election doesn’t seem all that wise.
But even if Hyde is still a coin-flip with the general electorate, Biden needs to make it through the primaries before he ever gets to make that bet. And more importantly, he needs to grapple with the principle that Warren so powerfully laid out, and do what is right.
If there is a silver lining for Biden, it’s that so far, the statements of support for Hyde have come from his campaign, and not the candidate himself. He’s got time to come up with a better answer the next time he’s asked about it on camera, which should be very soon.
Watch the full exchange above, via MSNBC.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.