Tim Kaine Still Believes That Poor People Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Pay for Abortions With Medicaid

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The mark of Kaine.
The mark of Kaine.Photo: SAUL LOEB

In 35 U.S. states, destitute women have no abortion rights. Or at least, none that they have the power to exercise. This is because the Hyde Amendment bars the use of federal dollars for abortion services. And so, throughout most of America, Medicaid will not cover the cost of the procedure.

Hillary Clinton hopes to change that. Early in the Democratic primary, she declared her support for repealing Hyde — a bold stance in a country where both abortion and federally funded health-care benefits for the poor remain controversial. But Clinton’s running mate, Virginia senator Tim Kaine, has been a career-long supporter of Hyde.

Kaine has moved dramatically left on abortion rights in the years since he campaigned for the governor’s house on a pledge to ban “partial-birth abortions.” In the Senate, he has maintained a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood. But he is also a practicing Catholic who has a “personal” opposition to abortion.

That doesn’t necessarily make Kaine a useless ally for supporters of reproductive choice. The coalition for legal abortion would be larger if more personally “pro-life” Americans adopted Kaine’s assessment that outlawing the procedure does more harm than good. The trouble is that Kaine also seems to subscribe to the belief that funding abortion with federal tax dollars violates the religious liberty of pro-life Catholics.

Earlier this week, it seemed that Kaine had recognized the flaws in this position: In a pluralistic democracy, we all have to fund things we’re morally opposed to (like incinerating Yemeni wedding parties, for example). And if one supports sending fungible foreign aid to countries with legal abortion, as Kaine does, then it’s hard to understand why allowing Medicaid to fund all legal medical services is a problem.

But on Wednesday, a Clinton-Kaine spokesperson qualified the senator’s support, telling The Wall Street Journal, “The senator is not personally for repeal of the Hyde Amendment. But as he’s made clear, he is committed to carrying out Secretary Clinton’s agenda.”

“Personally” is an odd word in this context. One can have a “personal” stance on the morality of a procedure or behavior. But an elected leader can’t really have a “personal” stance on a piece of legislation. If Clinton became severely ill — and Kaine had to assume the duties of the presidency — does this mean he would “personally” veto a bill repealing the Hyde Amendment?

On Friday, Kaine snuffed out such ambiguities, telling CNN, “I have been for the Hyde Amendment. I haven’t changed my position on that.”

In one sense, Kaine’s opposition to repealing Hyde may seem irrelevant. There isn’t a congressional majority for repealing the law right now, and there won’t be for a long time (if ever).

But a Democratic vice-president who supports the Hyde Amendment won’t help bring that majority into being.