After two days of intense criticism, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden reversed course 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 harder 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 where some sceptical activists openly question whether he can be the party standard-bearer in 2020.
And Biden's explanation tacitly repeated his critics' arguments that the Hyde Amendment is another abortion barrier that disproportionately affects poor women and women of colour.
"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.
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.
Australian Associated Press