That didn’t take long. Amid mounting backlash from his fellow Democrats and abortion advocates, including Planned Parenthood, former Vice President Joe Biden — the Democratic presidential frontrunner by a wide margin — reversed his longtime support for the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits using federal taxpayer money to fund abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger — a reversal that occurred in the span of just 24 hours.
Biden, one of the more moderate of the two dozen Democrats currently vying to take on Donald Trump in 2020, announced his new opposition to blocking taxpayer money from funding abortion during an event in Atlanta on Thursday. The announcement came just one day after his campaign reaffirmed his decades-long support for the Hyde Amendment, which, as CNN put it, positioned him “to the right of all other leading 2020 Democratic contenders, as well as Hillary Clinton and the party’s platform in 2016.”
Biden led into his big reversal by declaring his ardent support for Roe v. Wade and “a woman’s right to choose” to abort her unborn child. The former vice president said that while he makes no apologies for his past support of the bill, “circumstances have changed.” He told the audience that he’s “been working through the final details” of his healthcare plan but has been “struggling with the problems that Hyde now presents,” CNN notes.
In his comments on the amendment, Biden was careful to never utter the word “abortion.” He also made sure to hammer the point that the Republicans were to blame for his reversal, saying, the “times have changed” and warning, “I don’t think these guys are going to let up.”
“The problem is, when in fact there is this enormous pressure and even threat to close down clinics that were available in the past, for women who do not have the funds or are able to have them paid for privately, like they’ve been able to do. That was one thing,” Biden told the room. “But we now see so many Republican governors denying healthcare for millions of the most poorest [sic] and most vulnerable Americans by refusing even Medicaid expansion, I can’t justify leaving millions of women out of access to care they need and the ability to exercise their constitutionally protected right. If I believe healthcare is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s ZIP code.”
The final line was met with loud applause from the audience.
NBC News’ Mike Memoli suggests that the Hyde comments were “a late addition” to the speech, citing as evidence that Biden was forced to turn to a physical copy of notes for that section before returning to the teleprompter (h/t The Daily Caller).
Among the Democrats blasting the Hyde Amendment leading up to Biden’s reversal is his fellow Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (NJ), who, like many Democrats, declared the amendment racist because it “particularly” impacts African-American women, who have abortions at disproportionately high rates. “This assault on women’s reproductive rights is an assault on women, but it’s particularly an assault on African-American women,” said Booker, in comments reported by The Daily Caller. “And the Hyde Amendment, to deny people through Medicaid and Medicare abortion rights, that is an assault on African American women too.”
Presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have also taken turns blasting the Hyde Amendment. “Understand this: Women of means will still have access to abortions,” Warren told NBC this week. “Who won’t will be poor women, will be working women, will be women who can’t afford to take off three days from work, will be very young women who have been raped, will be women who have been molested by someone in their own family. We do not pass laws to take away that freedom from the women who are most vulnerable. It’s been the law for a while, and it’s been wrong for a long time.”
“Repealing the Hyde Amendment is critical so that low-income women in particular can have access to the reproductive care they need and deserve,” Gillibrand tweeted. Democratic socialist Sanders also took to Twitter to make clear he believes there’s “#NoMiddleGround” on allowing the federal funding of abortions.
Biden has been consistently leading the polls since he first announced that he was officially running for president in 2020. Most polls have found him with a double-digit advantage over the next highest polling candidate, Sanders. Both Biden and Sanders have run for the presidency in the past; Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary, which he and his supporters declared “rigged.” Biden has unsuccessfully run twice before: in 1988 and 2008. He pulled out of the former amid a plagiarism scandal and didn’t make much of a splash in 2008, finishing fifth in the Iowa Caucus with just 1% of the vote.