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 healthcare money to pay for abortions.
Biden’s reversal came after rival candidates and women’s rights groups assailed him for affirming through his campaign aides that he still supported the Hyde Amendment. With the shift, Biden hopes to limit any damage from women’s groups and progressives who already are skeptical about whether a 76-year-old, more centrist white man can be the party standard-bearer in 2020.
Speaking at a Democratic Party fundraiser in Atlanta, Biden didn’t mention the criticism aimed at him this week but tacitly agreed with his critics who cast the Hyde Amendment as another abortion barrier that disproportionately affects poor women and women of color. He said new restrictions in Republican-run states such as Georgia and Alabama justify his shift.
“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 with an explanation of a significant policy shift.
“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.”
Biden, a Roman Catholic who has wrestled publicly with abortion policy for decades, 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 healthcare grants. Now, he says, there are too many barriers that threaten that constitutional right.
A Planned Parenthood representative applauded Biden’s reversal but noted that he has lagged behind 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.
Hyde has become a defining standard for Democrats in recent years, making what was once a more common position among Democrats more untenable, particularly given the dynamics of primary politics heading into 2020.