ATLANTA — Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday reversed his support for the Hyde Amendment, a measure that prohibits most federal funding for abortion, after facing nearly two days of vigorous backlash from many in his own party.
Mr. Biden denounced the amendment in a speech before a Democratic National Committee gala in Georgia, where the Republican governor recently signed into law a far-reaching anti-abortion bill. A number of Republican-led states, mostly in the South, have passed restrictive abortion laws in recent months.
Mr. Biden cited those efforts, calling them “extreme laws,” as he explained his decision to change course on an issue that had been the latest example of Mr. Biden’s refusal to bow to Democratic Party litmus tests.
“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,” Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Biden, who is leading the Democratic presidential primary race, has long publicly struggled with the issue of abortion rights because of his Roman Catholic faith, though he has previously said he supports codifying Roe v. Wade. Last month, he appeared to tell a volunteer for the American Civil Liberties Union that he opposed the Hyde Amendment, but his campaign said on Wednesday that he had misheard the question.
The former vice president, who generally resists expressing contrition for the views he held in the past, noted that he made “no apologies for the last position.”
“I’ve been working through the finer details of my health care plan like others in this race, and I’ve been struggling with the problems that Hyde now presents,” Mr. Biden said.
He suggested that the amendment stands in the way of his goals of “universal coverage” and providing the “full range of health services women need,” when in many states the ability to gain access to abortion coverage through other means — Planned Parenthood clinics, for example — is being curtailed.
“Folks, times have changed,” he said. “I don’t think these guys are going to let up.”
The Hyde Amendment bans federal funding of abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. It affects Medicaid funding of abortion, leading critics to argue that the measure puts a disproportionate burden on women of color.
Mr. Biden’s remarks Thursday followed an outcry from across the Democratic Party, and many of his primary opponents seized on the issue to draw contrasts with the former vice president, even if many avoided mentioning him by name.
On Wednesday, Ilyse Hogue, president of the abortion rights organization Naral Pro-Choice America, told The New York Times that Mr. Biden’s support of the amendment, as stated by his campaign that day, would be disqualifying for an endorsement during the primary.
And earlier Thursday, as African-American party officials gathered in Atlanta for a leadership summit, many openly voiced frustration with his position.
“That’s unfortunate,” said State Senator Nikema Williams of Georgia, who is also the chairwoman of the state’s Democratic Party. “And at this day and time when women are fighting for their autonomy and access to reproductive rights, I’m looking forward to having continued conversations to get him to a place where we all recognize that the Hyde Amendment only puts restrictions on low-income women.”
Mr. Biden’s position on the Hyde Amendment had also been at odds with the Democratic National Committee’s platform.
“While we understand there may be a faith perspective, we feel very strongly from the D.N.C. and from our party that the Hyde Amendment should be repealed,” said Michael Blake, a member of the New York State Assembly who is a D.N.C. vice chairman. “We would hope that the vice president and others would reconsider.”