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Bernie Sanders commits to repealing Hyde Amendment

Democratic presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders addresses climate change during a campaign meeting with students at Concord High School in Concord, N.H. Jan. 22, 2016. (Photo by Katherine Taylor/Reuters)
Democratic presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders addresses climate change during a campaign meeting with students at Concord High School in Concord, N.H. Jan. 22, 2016.

Bernie Sanders called for repealing a key piece of anti-abortion legislation Friday, the day marking the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

“As president, and as someone who has a 100 percent pro-choice voting record in Congress, I will do everything that I can to protect and preserve a woman's right to an abortion,” Sanders said in a statement. “Women must have full control over their reproductive health in order to have full control over their lives. We must rescind the Hyde Amendment and resist attempts by states to erect roadblocks to abortion.”

The Hyde Amendment is a rider attached to government funding bills every year that prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortion, preventing government-backed health plans like Medicaid from covering the service for women who can’t afford it.

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Hillary Clinton has been vocal about the need to repeal Hyde, saying earlier this month while accepting the endorsement of Planned Parenthood that the amendment undercut a fundamental legal right for low-income women.

Sanders has voted against Hyde in the Senate and House, but his statement committing to repealing it comes after a week in which he was criticized by abortion rights groups -- most of whom have endorsed front-runner Clinton -- for not including anything about reproductive health in the outline of the single-payer health care plan he released Sunday.  

“We can assume women’s health services are intended to be covered, based on his past record,” wrote Illyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro Choice America, which endorsed Clinton earlier this month. “But in a political landscape this hostile to reproductive rights, words matter – as do their absence. If he won’t say the words now, how can we trust that he will hold the line?”

Emily’s List, the Democratic women’s group that has been laying the groundwork for Clinton’s run for years, said women’s health was an “afterthought” for Sanders.

In 2012, the Democratic Party added a plank to its platform calling for access to abortion “regardless of ability to pay” -- a reference to Hyde. But the party’s leaders have not aggressively pursued repeal of Hyde in Congress or expended much capital on it, so Sanders and Clinton’s commitment would be a progression for the party.

Clinton’s allies are likely to claim that Sanders responded to pressure from the former secretary of state and her allies to come out against Hyde, and to say that it’s only the most recent evolution Sanders has made under pressure.

On Friday, he told The New York times that he never intended to say Iran should send troops to fight ISIS in the Syrian civil war. But in a Democratic debate in November, Iran was among a list of countries Sanders said should be “get[ting] their hands dirty, their boots on the ground.”

Thursday night, he told MSNBC that he did not think Planned Parenthood was part of the “establishment.” Two days earlier, he told MSNBC that groups like Planned Parenthood “part of the establishment.”

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On his single-payer health care plan, meanwhile, Sanders for years introduced bills to Congress that would require states to administer the program. But following Clinton’s objections that approach (though not necessarily in response to them), Sanders rolled out a single-payer plan run by the federal government, not the states.

And in 2005, Sanders voted for a bill to give legal immunity to gun makers and sellers, which he defended after Clinton attacked him on it this year. But last weekend, he announced he would support a bill to roll back key parts of that 2005 law.

Clinton has had her own modest evolution on abortion rights. After being criticized by some on the left saying that abortion should be “safe legal and rare,” Clinton has dropped the “rare.”

“We know any Republican president will accelerate the assault on access to safe and legal abortion,” she said while accepting Planned Parenthood’s endorsement. “I believe we need to protect access to safe and legal abortion, not just in principle, but in practice.”