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Biden reverses abortion funding stand

Joe Biden on Thursday reversed his longstanding opposition to public funding of abortions, saying that the successful Republican nationwide “assault” on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy forced him to change his mind.

The former vice president and current Democratic front-runner for president, said that his about-face during the election cycle came as GOP-controlled states this year began restricting the procedure and phasing out abortion clinics — a move that left women without access to a doctor to end their pregnancies.

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He made the surprise announcement at the start of a speech during the Democratic National Committee’s gala in Atlanta, which was devoted more to voting rights and minority empowerment than abortion.

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

Biden, however, did indicate that he would not support taxpayer funding for abortion if it became more readily available for women in need, particularly women who live in poverty.

Biden’s reversal came as he began drawing significant political fire this week for saying he still supported what’s known as the Hyde Amendment, a federal spending provision that since 1976 has been annually approved to ban federal funding for most abortions, including for low-income women enrolled in Medicaid.

Earlier in the campaign, Biden had signaled he no longer supported the amendment.

Biden has long held one of the more conservative positions on abortion among latter-day Democrats. He once opposed efforts to add abortion exemptions for victims of rape or incest when he was a senator from Delaware. In 1981, he also voted for a constitutional amendment that would have allowed states to overturn Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973.

“I have supported the Hyde Amendment like many, many others have,” Biden said Thursday, “because there were sufficient monies and circumstances where women were able to exercise that right — women of color, poor women, women who were not able to have access — and it was not under attack as it is now. But circumstances have changed.”

Biden said he changed his mind as he began hammering out his health care plan to provide universal health care coverage, “and I’ve been struggling with the problems that Hyde now presents.”

But the biggest challenge, he said, were Republicans.

“Women’s rights and women’s health are under assault like we haven’t seen in the last 50 years,” he said. “It’s clear that these folks are going to stop at nothing to get rid of Roe. And it’s clear to me that we just have to be strong defending it. I support Roe. I support a woman’s right to choose … and quite frankly, I always will.”

Biden’s surprise announcement was quickly condemned as an election-year epiphany by his opponents on the right and left, but it was praised by the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, which said in a written statement that that it was “glad that Joe Biden listened to the voices of millions of women and further clarified his position on the Hyde Amendment.”

“Let’s be clear,” NARAL said, “the Hyde Amendment discriminates against all women but particularly poor women and women of color.”

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