Joe Biden reverses stance on Hyde abortion amendment

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.

Biden's reversal came after rivals and women's rights groups blasted 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 attacks he's endured 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 like 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 health care grants. Now, he says, there are too many barriers that threaten that constitutional right.

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Obama awards Biden Presidential Medal of Freedom
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Obama awards Biden Presidential Medal of Freedom

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden wipes his eyes before receiving the Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama, not pictured, during an event at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Obama awarded Biden with the highest civilian honor, commemorating an 'extraordinary man with an extraordinary career in public service.'

(Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg)

US President Barack Obama awards Vice President Joe Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a tribute to Biden at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 12, 2017.

(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Vice-President Joe Biden speaks after he received the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama during an event in the State Dinning room of the White House, January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama hugs Vice President Joe Biden after presenting him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

U.S. President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Vice President Joe Biden in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

Vice-President Joe Biden reacts as President Barack Obama delivers remarks during an event in the State Dining room of the White House, January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 12: (AFP OUT) U.S. Vice President Joe Biden wipes his eyes as Preident Barack Obama presents him with Medal of Freedom during an event in the State Dinning room of the White House January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Vice President Joe Biden in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

US Vice President Joe Biden wipes away tears after President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a tribute to Biden at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 12, 2017.

(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Vice President Joe Biden in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

Vice-President Joe Biden gets emotional as President Barack Obama delivers remarks during an event in the State Dinning room of the White House, January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Vice President Joe Biden in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a tribute to Vice President Joe Biden in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

U.S. President Barack Obama looks at his watch as he reacts to Vice President Joe Biden speech in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden wipes his eye after President Barack Obama presented him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

US Vice President Joe Biden wipes away tears as he walks past President Barack Obama after he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a tribute to Biden at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 12, 2017.

(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Vice President Joe Biden in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

Vice-President Joe Biden speaks after he received from President Barack Obama the Medal of Freedom during an event in the State Dinning room of the White House, January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

US Vice President Joe Biden acknowledges applause after President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a tribute to Biden at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 12, 2017.

(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a tribute to Vice President Joe Biden in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

U.S. President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Freedom to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during an event at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Obama awarded Biden with the highest civilian honor, commemorating an 'extraordinary man with an extraordinary career in public service.'

(Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg)

U.S. President Barack Obama looks at his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha during an event in the State Dinning room of the White House, January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Obama presented the Medal of Freedom to Vice President Joe Biden.

(Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Vice President Joe Biden after presenting him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden reacts as President Barack Obama delivers remarks to tribute him in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

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A Planned Parenthood representative applauded Biden's reversal but noted that he has been 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.

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