(Bloomberg) -- Joe Biden is breaking with many of his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination by maintaining support for a four-decade rule that prohibits paying for abortions with federal funds.
Biden’s campaign said in a statement that the former vice president is sticking with his long-standing backing of the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which has been routinely added to government funding bills and blocks federal medical programs from paying for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman.
“He has not at this point changed his position on the Hyde Amendment,” the campaign said in a statement.
Biden has held a clear lead in early Democratic polls despite taking some positions that are more moderate than progressive activists demand.
After his stance was reported by NBC News, several of his competitors in the campaign highlighted their differences on Twitter.
“There is #NoMiddleGround on women’s rights. Abortion is a constitutional right. Under my Medicare for All plan, we will repeal the Hyde Amendment,” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said.
California Senator Kamala Harris chimed in: “No woman’s access to reproductive health care should be based on how much money she has. We must repeal the Hyde Amendment.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, speaking at a town hall in Fort Wayne, Indiana, that was broadcast on MSNBC, said: “We do not pass laws that take away that freedom from the women who are most vulnerable.”
Biden’s position raised fresh questions about whether his moderate streak is the right fit for a party that increasingly opposes restrictions to abortion access. For decades, Democratic leaders who favor abortion rights have accepted Hyde restrictions, but pressure is building to get rid of it.
The issue of abortion has taken on renewed significance as several states have passed legislation to restrict or criminalize it. The new laws raise questions about the future of abortion rights in a more conservative Supreme Court and face criticism from many Democratic contenders, including Biden, who has called for codifying Roe v. Wade protections.
“There’s no political or ideological excuse for Joe Biden’s support for the Hyde Amendment, which translates into discrimination against poor women and women of color plain and simple,” said Ilyse Hogue, the president of Naral, an abortion rights advocacy group. “His position further endangers women and families already facing enormous hurdles and creates two classes of rights for people in this country, which is inherently undemocratic.”
Senate legislation to repeal the Hyde Amendment -- named for the late Republican Representative Henry Hyde of Illinois -- has 22 Democratic cosponsors, including presidential candidates Sanders, Harris, Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar.
Representatives Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Eric Swalwell of California, who also are running in the 2020 race are cosponsors of a similar measure in the House.
The battle will be fought again in Congress as spending bills for fiscal 2020 are written. The issue is of paramount importance to Republicans, who could exclude the measure as long as they maintain filibuster power in the Senate.
Biden’s campaign left some wiggle room to change his mind, saying that “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.”
(Updates with town hall comment by Warren in eighth paragraph.)
--With assistance from Jack Fitzpatrick.
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