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‘Times Have Changed.’ Biden Reverses Course on Federal Money for Abortions

Democratic front-runner Joe Biden came out Thursday against the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funds for abortion, just a day after affirming his support and drawing fierce criticism from rivals and progressive activists.

Biden, speaking at a Democratic National Committee event in Atlanta on Thursday evening, said he no longer supports the 1976 provision.

“I can’t justify leaving millions of women without access to care they need and the ability to exercise their constitutionally protected right.” Biden said. “Times have changed.”

On Wednesday, his campaign said in a statement that the former vice president was sticking with his long-standing support of the Hyde Amendment, which has been routinely added to government funding bills and blocks federal medical programs from paying for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman.

After his stance was reported by NBC News, several of his competitors in the campaign highlighted their differences on Twitter.

“There is #NoMiddleGround on women’s rights. Abortion is a constitutional right. Under my Medicare for All plan, we will repeal the Hyde Amendment,” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said.

California Senator Kamala Harris chimed in: “No woman’s access to reproductive health care should be based on how much money she has. We must repeal the Hyde Amendment.”

Kamala Harris

@KamalaHarris

No woman’s access to reproductive health care should be based on how much money she has. We must repeal the Hyde Amendment.

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Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, speaking at a town hall in Fort Wayne, Indiana, that was broadcast on MSNBC, said: “We do not pass laws that take away that freedom from the women who are most vulnerable.”

Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL, an abortion rights activist group, praised Biden for having “listened to the voices of millions of women and further clarified his position on the Hyde Amendment. Let’s be clear, the Hyde Amendment discriminates against all women but particularly poor women and women of color.”

Joe Biden

@JoeBiden

Women’s rights and health care are under assault in a way that seeks to roll back every step of progress we’ve made over the last 50 years. If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s zip code.

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On Wednesday, she said there was “no political or ideological excuse for Joe Biden’s support” for the amendment.

The abrupt shift in the former vice president’s position occurred after a misstep by his campaign.

On Tuesday, he presented his $5 trillion climate change plan Tuesday with several passages lifted from other sources without attribution. His campaign staff blamed that on an oversight and corrected it, but it was a reminder of the plagiarism scandal that hobbled Biden’s first presidential campaign more than 30 years ago.

He has struggled when asked to discuss his treatment of Anita Hill during the 1991 Senate hearings that led to the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. And even before he entered the race, several women said publicly that he had made them uncomfortable by touching them.

Biden called Hill as he prepared to begin his campaign, an aide said hours after he got into the race. Hill told the New York Times that she was not satisfied with his apology.

The issue of abortion has taken on renewed significance as several states have passed legislation to restrict or criminalize it.

Senate legislation to repeal the Hyde Amendment — named for the late Republican Representative Henry Hyde of Illinois — has 22 Democratic cosponsors, including presidential candidates Sanders, Harris, Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar.

Klobuchar, asked about Biden’s new position on MSNBC, said she was not surprised: “I think it would’ve been a big problem for him.”

Until last week, Democratic candidates had mostly avoided criticizing each other. But Biden shifted the dynamic of the race when he entered it late April. He has been able to build on his name recognition, good will from his service as President Barack Obama’s vice president and belief among a sizable portion of Democratic voters that he has the best chance to defeat President Donald Trump in 2020.

During his brief 1988 presidential campaign, Biden was accused of lifting passages for campaign speeches from a speech by Neil Kinnock, a British Labour Party leader. At the time he also acknowledged plagiarizing a law review article during his first year of law school, saying he didn’t understand the need to fully cite sources.

Biden dropped out of the race in September 1987.

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