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Joe Biden reverses course and says he's against Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortions

Biden says he no longer supports Hyde Amendment

Former Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday he is against the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortions in most cases, reversing course from his earlier position after criticism from his 2020 Democratic rivals. Biden said at the Democratic National Committee fundraising gala he supported the Hyde Amendment for many years because he did not believe women's rights were "under attack" then but "circumstances have changed." 

"I can't justify leaving millions of women without access to the care they need and the ability ... to exercise their constitutional protected right," Biden said.

Biden had initially told a voter last month that he was against the Hyde Amendment, but his campaign clarified earlier this week that he supported it. Women's rights groups quickly expressed their dissatisfaction with his position on the Hyde Amendment. The DNC is formally against the Hyde Amendment. 

Other Democrats pounced on Biden. Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who normally does not criticize other Democrats, told CBS News on Wednesday that Biden is "absolutely wrong" on this issue.

"I hope Joe Biden rethinks his position on this issue," O'Rourke told Elaine Quijano on CBSN's "Red & Blue." "Perhaps he doesn't have all the facts. Perhaps he doesn't understand who the Hyde Amendment hurts the most ... lower income communities, communities of color. I would ask that he rethink his position on this."

Beto O'Rourke: Biden is "absolutely wrong" in Hyde Amendment support

After a campaign stop Wednesday in New Hampshire, Biden declined to answer a question on the Hyde Amendment by CBS News.

Biden, a staunch Catholic, is anti-abortion in his personal life, but supports Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. In his 2007 memoir "Promises to Keep," Biden said he would continue to protect Roe, and that "I refuse to impose my religious beliefs on other people."

Republicans were quick Thursday to attack Biden's reversal on the issue. The Republican National Committee issued a statement saying Biden had "flipped" with his "embrace of the radical left complete." 

Biden currently is leading polls by double digits for the 2020 Democratic nomination. 

What is the Hyde Amendment?

The Hyde Amendment, first introduced in 1976 and then expanded in 1994, bans federal funding to be used for abortions except in the case of rape, incest or if a woman's life is at risk. It bans Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health insurance from covering abortion outside these three exceptions, although several states have expanded Medicare to include funding for abortion.

The Hyde Amendment is often added to federal funding bills, including several that Democratic candidates have voted for. But many of the Democrats on the campaign trail have called for the Hyde Amendment to be repealed.

Where do the other Democratic candidates stand?

O'Rourke was not the only Democrat to come out in support of repealing the Hyde Amendment. At an MSNBC town hall Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren did not mention Biden by name, but said the Hyde Amendment chips away at Roe v. Wade for lower-income women.

"We do not pass laws that take away that freedom from the women who are most vulnerable," Warren said.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he was "a little surprised" about Biden's stance, but said he is "focused on my own views more and more assaults on vulnerable women. Hyde Amendment is part of that."

Sen. Cory Booker insisted Wednesday that he is "not talking about other candidates," but said "the Hyde Amendment is direct assault on black and brown communities."

Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand have all tweeted their support for repealing the Hyde Amendment.

Grace Segers contributed to this report.

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