Biden reverses position on federal dollars for abortions

ATLANTA (AP) — After two days of intense criticism, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden reversed course Thursday and declared that he no longer supports a long-standing congressional ban on using federal health care money to pay for abortions.

“If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment” that makes it more difficult for some women to access care, Biden said at a Democratic Party fundraiser in Atlanta.

The former vice president’s reversal on the Hyde Amendment came after rivals and women’s rights groups blasted him for affirming through campaign aides that he still supported the decades-old budget provision. The dynamics had been certain to flare up again at Democrats’ first primary debate in three weeks.

Biden didn’t mention this week’s attacks, saying his decision was about health care, not politics. Yet the circumstances highlight the risks for a 76-year-old former vice president who’s running as more of a centrist in a party in which some skeptical activists openly question whether he can be the party standard-bearer in 2020.

And Biden’s explanation tacitly repeated his critics’ arguments the Hyde Amendment is another abortion barrier that disproportionately affects poor women and women of color.

“I’ve been struggling with the problems that Hyde now presents,” Biden said, opening a speech dedicated mostly to voting rights and issues important to the black community.

“I want to be clear: I make no apologies for my last position. I make no apologies for what I’m about to say,” he explained, arguing that “circumstances have changed” with Republican-run states — including Georgia, where Biden spoke — adopting severe restrictions on abortion .

A Roman Catholic who has wrestled publicly with abortion policy for decades, Biden said he voted as a senator to support the Hyde Amendment because he believed that women would still have access to abortion even without Medicaid insurance and other federal health care grants and that abortion opponents shouldn’t be compelled to pay for the procedure. It was part of what Biden has described as a “middle ground” on abortion.

Now, he says, there are too many barriers that threaten that constitutional right, leaving some women with no reasonable options as long as Republicans keep pushing for an outright repeal of the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

The former vice president, who launched his 2020 presidential campaign in April, said he arrived at the decision as part of developing an upcoming comprehensive health care proposal. He has declared his support for a Medicare-like public option as the next step toward universal coverage. He reasoned that his goal of universal coverage means women must have full and fair access to care, including abortion.

A Planned Parenthood representative applauded Biden’s reversal but noted that he has been lagging the women’s rights movement on the issue.

“Happy to see Joe Biden embrace what we have long known to be true: Hyde blocks people — particularly women of color and women with low incomes — from accessing safe, legal abortion care,” said Leana Wen of Planned Parenthood, the women’s health giant whose services include abortion and abortion referrals.

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