Joe Biden supports Hyde Amendment, splits from 2020 Dems on abortion measure

PHOTO: Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden gives a pep talk to Dallas County high school students during a campaign event at the SPARK! educational center in Dallas, Texas, May 29, 2019.PlayBrandon Wade/Reuters
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Former Vice President Joe Biden reiterated his support for the Hyde Amendment, a measure that creates a barrier to abortion for low income women across the United States.

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"He has not at this point changed his position on the Hyde Amendment," his campaign said in a statement to ABC News. "The Hyde Amendment does not prevent organizations in the US that provide lifesaving health care services for women from receiving the federal funding they need. But given the current draconian attempts to limit access to abortion, if avenues for women to access their protected rights under Roe V Wade are closed, he would be open to repeal."

After an event in South Carolina in May, Biden was asked by a volunteer for the American Civil Liberties Union in an exchange that was captured on film about whether he would “commit to abolishing the Hyde Amendment.” Biden initially said “Yes.”

Then, when the volunteer said she was glad he was committed to abolishing the amendment, his demeanor changed.

“No, no,” Biden said, then paused and said “Right now this has to be – it can’t stay” before walking away.

— ACLU (@ACLU) May 8, 2019

The Biden campaign said in a statement to ABC News that the former vice president “misheard the woman and thought she was referring to the Mexico City rule, which prevents federal aid money from going to organizations overseas that perform abortions. He supports the repeal of the Mexico City rule because it prevents critical aid from going to organizations even if abortion is a very small fraction of the work they are doing. He has not at this point changed his position on the Hyde Amendment.”

Jamal Brown, Biden’s national press secretary, in a statement to ABC News underscored that he has long fought to protect a woman’s right to choose and “believes we must protect the progress we've made and has called on codifying the decision in Roe to ensure this choice remains between a woman and her doctor.”

The Hyde Amendment was first passed in 1976, three years after the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade that encoded abortion as a protected right, stipulating that federal funding could not be used to pay for abortions. A few years later, 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.

It was introduced by Rep. Henry Hyde, who said at the time, "I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the ... Medicaid bill."

With his campaign’s announcement Wednesday, Biden splits from many in the Democratic Party, including many of his 2020 competitors. Candidates including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., have called for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment.

PHOTO: Pro-choice supporters and staff of Planned Parenthood hold a rally outside the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services Center in St. Louis, May 31, 2019, the last location in the state performing abortions. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Pro-choice supporters and staff of Planned Parenthood hold a rally outside the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services Center in St. Louis, May 31, 2019, the last location in the state performing abortions.

Biden's announcement was largely met with criticism from reproductive and sexual health advocates and providers.

“Differentiating himself from the field this way will not earn Joe Biden any political points and will bring harm to women who are already most vulnerable,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue wrote in a statement.

"To support the Hyde Amendment is to block people -- particularly women of color and women with low incomes – from accessing safe, legal abortion," Kelley Robinson, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. "As abortion access is being restricted and pushed out of reach in states around the country, it is unacceptable for a candidate to support policies that further restrict abortion." Robinson added, "We strongly encourage Joe Biden to speak to the people whose lives are impacted by this discriminatory policy and reevaluate his position.”

Destiny Lopez, co-director of the All* Above All Action Fund, whose mission is to undo the Hyde Amendment, invited Biden "to meet with us to discuss his position on abortion coverage bans and lifting the Hyde Amendment."

Lopez added in a statement, "We’re hopeful that just as Vice President Biden has evolved on his support for legal abortion, so too will he advance his understanding of the devastating impact of denying coverage of abortion, especially for women struggling financially. Nearly all our presidential candidates recognize, as do a majority of American voters, that denying Medicaid insurance coverage of abortion can be the same as an outright ban. It has a disproportionate impact on people of color and young people. This is no time to pick and choose on abortion policy."

2020 Democratic presidential candidates have also jumped on Biden's stance.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wrote in a tweet that "Repealing the Hyde Amendment is critical so that low-income women, in particular, can have access to the reproductive care they need and deserve."

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he voted against the Hyde Amendment in 1993 and added, "It was wrong then and it is wrong now."

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont also reiterated his plan to repeal the Hyde Amendment.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio retweeted NARAL Pro-Choice America and said that “If you don’t support repeal, you shouldn’t be the Democratic nominee.”

ABC News' Averi Harper contributed to this report.