Joe Biden reverses stance on Hyde Amendment

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden addresses a crowd at the Hyatt Park community center, May 4, 2019, in Columbia, South Carolina.PlaySean Rayford/Getty Images, FILE
WATCH Joe Biden reverses stance on Hyde Amendment

Former Vice President Joe Biden has reversed his stance on his support for a measure that prevents using federal funding for abortion after taking heat from some of his fellow 2020 Democrats.

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"I can't justify leaving millions of women without access to the care they need and their ability to exercise their constitutionally protected right. If I believe healthcare is a right as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone's zip code," Biden said at the DNC "IWillVote" Gala in Atlanta on Thursday night.

"For many years as a U.S. senator, I have supported the Hyde amendment as many, many others have because there was sufficient monies and circumstances where women were able to exercise that right, women of color, poor women, women were not able to have access, and it was not under attack … as it is now. But circumstances have changed," he said.

Prior to Biden's reversal, several 2020 challengers criticized him for his support for the amendment, given its impact on low-income and minority women.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden addresses a crowd at the Hyatt Park community center, May 4, 2019, in Columbia, South Carolina. Sean Rayford/Getty Images, FILE
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden addresses a crowd at the Hyatt Park community center, May 4, 2019, in Columbia, South Carolina.

Many of those same candidates had voted for broad spending measures that contained similar language.

In a statement earlier on Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., seemingly criticized Biden for his support of the Hyde Amendment, citing his own 'consistent' votes against the amendment.

"If we believe that a woman has the constitutional right to control her own body, that right must apply to ALL women, including low-income women. That is why I have consistently voted against the Hyde Amendment and, why as president, I would eliminate it," Sanders said in a statement.

Still, Congressional records show Sanders -- along with Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. -- voted for an omnibus spending bill in 2014 that included language similar to the Hyde Amendment.

Section 506 in the general provisions portion of the bill "Prohibits the expenditure of funds appropriated in this Act ... for: (1) any abortion, or (2) health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion.

In section 507, the bill states that the ban on the use of federal funds "does not apply: (1) if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest; or (2) in the case where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed."

The phrasing is similar to language that appears in a 2018 funding bill that Sanders voted against, but Warren, Booker, Klobuchar, Gillibrand and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., voted to approve.

Several members of the House who are currently running for president also voted for the 2014 and 2018 legislation.

Former Reps. John Delaney of Maryland, and Beto O'Rourke of Texas along with Reps. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., voted for both the 2018 and 2014 spending bills that contained that language and Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Seth Moulton, D-Mass., voted for the 2018 governmental funding measure.

Omnibus spending bills can pose a particular challenge for lawmakers, who may be forced into voting for provisions they would not typically support in order to keep the government funded, political experts say.

"These kind of bills are always political landmines because you don't always support every provision in them, but later you can pull out parts of what were in the bill and connect them to people's voting records and use it against them," said Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Princeton University.

"These have become much more comment in the last two decades -- partly because it's easier to get things through (putting it in a spending bill) than it is to get legislation through separately," Zelizer told ABC News.

"So this is going to be a bigger problem because these bills have lots of stuff in them that you might not support and you have to live with that record."

The Hyde Amendment stipulates that federal funding cannot be used to pay for abortions. A few years after it was first passed, Congress made an exemption for cases in which there was a threat to the patient's life. An exemption for cases of rape or incest was added in the early 1990s.

The law largely affects patients who are on Medicaid, meaning low-income patients have to pay for an abortion out-of-pocket.

Sanders did vote no in a standalone vote on the Hyde Amendment in 1993 when he served in the House of Representatives.

And in a statement after the 2014 spending bill was passed, Sanders made it clear that he was voting reluctantly for it.

"While this is not the bill that I would have written, the alternative -- another government shutdown -- would have been catastrophic for our country and for the economy," Sanders wrote in the 2014 statement.

But in that statement, Sanders made no mention of his opposition to the language around the use of federal funds for abortions.

When asked Thursday evening about his decision to vote for the legislation in 2014, Sanders' campaign referred ABC News to his statement earlier Thursday.

ABC News also asked the campaigns of the candidates who voted for the spending measures for comment.

The Warren campaign told ABC News Thursday night, "Elizabeth is opposed to the Hyde Amendment."

And a campaign spokesperson for the Swalwell campaign told ABC News that he "has repeatedly cosponsored the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act, to repeal the discriminatory Hyde Amendment" and that "with a Democratic House majority, he looks forward to advancing the EACH Woman Act to strip this amendment from the law books."

The other campaigns have not issued a response to ABC News.

ABC News' Lissette Rodriguez, Armando Garcia, Cheyenne Haslett, Averi Harper and Zohreen Shah contributed to this report.