Hyde Amendment: Joe Biden's Flip on Key Abortion Issue Wins Praise—He 'Listened to the Voices of Millions of Women'

Sexual health campaign groups Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro Choice America praised Joe Biden's sudden reversal of his controversial decades-long support for the Hyde Amendment for which he faced mounting criticism in the Democratic Party's 2020 primary.

Biden, a former U.S. vice president and Delaware senator, walked back his support for the Hyde Amendment at a dinner in Atlanta on Thursday. He cited the contradiction with his overriding belief that access to health care is a right and so income should not be a factor.

Under the 1976 Hyde Amendment, federal money via Medicaid cannot be used to pay for abortions except in specific circumstances, including a pregnancy by incest or rape, or when a pregnancy threatens the mother's life.

Proponents of the amendment argue it protects the conscience of Americans who oppose abortion, which they view as the taking of a life, and so do not want their tax dollars used to fund terminations.

But critics of the Hyde Amendment say it penalizes women on low incomes who struggle to secure the funding for abortions, which disproportionately affects women of color.

"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," Dr. Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood, tweeted.

Ilyse Hogue, president of abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, also welcomed the news. "We're glad that Joe Biden listened to the voices of millions of women and further clarified his position on the Hyde Amendment," Hogue said in a statement sent to Newsweek.

"Let's be clear, the Hyde Amendment discriminates against all women but particularly poor women and women of color. At a time where the fundamental freedoms enshrined in Roe are under attack, we need full-throated allies in our leaders.

"Leadership is often about listening and learning. We're pleased that Joe Biden has joined the rest of the 2020 Democratic field in coalescing around the party's core values—support for abortion rights, and the basic truth that reproductive freedom is fundamental to the pursuit of equality and economic security in this country."

On Wednesday, Biden's campaign, which is leading in the 2020 polls, reiterated his support for Hyde, which is anomalous among candidates in the Democratic primary. But on Thursday night, Biden turned that on its head.

According to CNN, Biden blamed Republican state lawmakers for recently enacting "extreme laws in clear violation of constitutional rights" that ban abortions, despite the Roe vs. Wade ruling by the Supreme Court in 1973, which affirmed a woman's right to a safe termination.

Though Biden made "no apologies" for his past support of the Hyde Amendment, he said circumstances have changed: "I've been working through the final details of my health care plan like others in this race and I've been struggling with the problems that Hyde now presents... I can't justify leaving millions of women without access to the care they need and the ability to... exercise their constitutionally protected right."

The Hyde Amendment was passed as a temporary "rider" to the annual congressional appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services, which means that it needs to be reauthorized every year. Seven presidents, three Democrats and four Republicans, have supported the measure (or at least a modified version) over the past four decades.

Joe Biden abortion Hyde Amendment 2020
Former vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks to a crowd at a Democratic National Committee event on June 6, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. At the event, Biden walked back his support of the Hyde Amendment controversial abortion legislation. Dustin Chambers/Getty Images
Hyde Amendment: Joe Biden's Flip on Key Abortion Issue Wins Praise—He 'Listened to the Voices of Millions of Women' | Politics