OTTUMWA — Former Vice-President Joe Biden hadn’t been speaking for five minutes at his Ottumwa campaign rally when a man in an American flag shirt stood up in the audience.
The man shouted questions about Biden’s recent shift on the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds for abortions. Biden had long supported the measure, but reversed course five days before his arrival in Ottumwa.
The crowd booed. Biden waited. He said he would meet with the man after his speech, if he would end the disruption.
“He was very friendly,” Biden said after the rally. “It’s a legitimate question for him to ask.”
In an interview with the Courier after the rally ended, Biden said the change of position was necessary. His health care proposal calls for universal coverage.
“I realized there was no way to do both at the same time,” he said.
Biden also pointed to legislative changes from when the amendment passed Congress. Multiple states, including Iowa, have passed laws that place new restrictions on access to abortion. Missouri’s last clinic that provides abortions was kept open last week by court order as its license is reviewed.
“When the Hyde Amendment was written, there were a lot of options for women to exercise their Constitutional rights,” said Biden.
Before Biden arrived, Sylvia Bland of Ottumwa said the questions about abortion caught her attention. She called herself “pro-life-choice.” Abortion isn’t something she supports as a method of birth control. But she said it’s often not as simple as opponents make it sound.
“I want to say to them, ‘How many children have you adopted?’” Bland said, adding that “most of my children are adopted.”
Biden used most of his speech in Ottumwa to target President Donald Trump. He said Trump only backpedaled on new promises of tariffs on Mexico because “he realized he was likely to lose Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa.”
He returned to the issue after the rally, saying Mexico made nearly identical commitments to the Obama administration as it recently did to Trump. The question is whether Mexico has the ability to follow through.
“They made that same promise to me. Personally,” Biden said.
The tariffs on Chinese products, and the tariffs China has imposed in response, have hurt American farmers. Biden said there are better ways to handle that situation, starting with rallying allies like Japan and South Korea, and mirroring Chinese restrictions on foreign investments.
Biden said his message for farmers is simple.
“Number one, help’s on the way. We’re not going to use Iowa farmers as pawns. We’re not going to use them as vehicles to threaten other countries,” he said. “Let’s deal with the problems. You notice none of this solves any of the problems.”
Matt Milner is the managing editor of the Ottumwa Courier.