"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
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
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 skeptical 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 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
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
The former vice president 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.
"Happy to see
Other activists accepted credit for pushing Biden on the issue.
"We're pleased that
Repealing Hyde has become a defining standard for
At least one prominent Democratic woman remained unconvinced.
"I am not clear that
"He's just not very good at this.
A senior Biden campaign official said some aides were surprised at the speed of the reversal, given Biden's long history of explaining his abortion positions in terms of his faith. But aides realized that as the front-runner, the attacks weren't going to let up, and his campaign reasoned that the fallout within the Democratic primary outweigh any long-term benefit of maintain his previous Hyde support.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations.
Biden's decadeslong position first gained new scrutiny several weeks ago when the
His campaign later affirmed his support for his fellow
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