Biden, in flip, opposes ban on federal funds for abortion

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Former vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. (Dustin Chambers, Getty Images North America, AFP)
Former vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. (Dustin Chambers, Getty Images North America, AFP)

Leading US Democrat Joe Biden, facing major pressure from several rivals chasing the party's 2020 presidential nomination, on Thursday reversed his longstanding opposition to using federal funds for abortions.

For decades the former vice president supported the controversial provision that many in his party are now aiming to overturn.

The 40-year-old Hyde Amendment makes it illegal for US tax dollars to be spent on abortions except in rare cases when a pregnancy endangers the life of the mother, or when the pregnancy results from rape or incest.

As a US senator for more than 30 years, Biden - a 76-year-old Catholic who is personally opposed to abortion - voted dozens of times in support of the amendment.

But with several Republican-led state legislatures recently moving to restrict abortion rights, and as Biden endured fierce rebukes from Democratic rivals this week after his campaign confirmed that he still supported the ban, the party frontrunner may have been jolted into reconsidering his position.

"Women's rights and health care are under assault in a way that seeks to roll back every step of progress we've made over the last 50 years," Biden wrote on Twitter.

"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."

Critics say the Hyde Amendment unfairly discriminates against low-income women because it forbids coverage for abortions in public insurance programs like Medicaid.

Abortion - and a potential challenge to Roe v Wade, the 1970s US Supreme Court decision which enshrined the nationwide right to terminate a pregnancy - has emerged as a hot-button issue ahead of next year's elections between a Democratic nominee and US President Donald Trump.

"The Hyde Amendment should not be American law," Senator Elizabeth Warren said on Wednesday, adding she would "lead the fight" to repeal it.

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