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Convictions can be short-lived or easily discarded in a politician’s life. President Joe Biden, a man defined as a Catholic, has had a long evolution in his views on abortion. In the 1980s and 1990s, Biden was something of a pro-life politician, sharing positions with conservative Republicans and Democrats who opposed abortion; but then, over the years and as his political aspirations grew, the Democrat began to support the abortion cause until he became the greatest political ally of the green scarf movement today.
Looking back over his political career, especially as a senator, Biden’s evolution is striking. According to an NBC News report, in 1977, when he was a senator from Delaware, “Biden voted against a 1977 compromise that allowed Medicaid to fund abortions that included exceptions for victims of rape and incest in addition to concerns for the life of the mother.” Four years later, and even though the rape and incest exceptions passed in that case, “Biden voted in 1981 to again remove them, in what was the most far-reaching ban on federal funds ever enacted by Congress.”
Biden was just a young senator, but he remained clear and firm in his stance on abortion for a long time. For example, in March 1986, Biden told the Catholic diocesan newspaper that “abortion is wrong from the moment of conception.” In 1994, in a letter to the electorate in the context of the Clinton administration’s health care negotiations, Biden said he voted “on no fewer than 50 occasions” against federal funding for abortions. The Democrat’s argument was simple: “Those of us who oppose abortions should not be forced to pay for them.” In other words, pro-life taxpayers have no business funding abortions.
According to The New York Times, Biden even once supported a Constitutional Amendment in 1982 to “allow individual states to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that had made abortion legal nationwide several years earlier.” That occurred during the Reagan administration when the White House and Congress, for the first time in decades, were controlled by Republicans. Biden’s support came primarily within the Senate Judiciary Committee in March 1982, but the Amendment did not reach the full Senate, according to the Times.
A shift in position
As the Democratic Party shifted its political position to the left by embracing its liberal and progressive base, it became more complicated for Catholic Democrats to position themselves against abortion, especially for those with ambitious political aspirations, which was the case with Biden.
The president changed his position as the years went by and he became a more important figure within his party.
For example, in 2007, in his book “Promises to Keep“, he described himself as a person located in the “middle of the road” on the issue of abortion and pledged to protect the Roe v. Wade case, the same case that decades ago he had disfavored in the Senate. In that book, Biden noted that he does not have the “a right to impose my view on the rest of society.”
In 2012, during a debate, Biden said he personally opposed abortion, but refused to impose that belief on “equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews (…) I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that — women they can’t control their body.”
An abortionist approach adopted from the White House
Once Biden left the vice-presidency, Donald Trump upset Hillary Clinton by becoming president of the United States. The Republican, strongly supported by the conservative base, pursued a pro-life crusade for four years with mandates and measures to limit access to abortion across the country.
Trump stopped federal funding for abortion, reinstated the Mexico City policy — known to progressives as the Gag Rule — that prevented the United States from sponsoring abortions abroad and also banned the Title X program from facilitating paperwork and access to abortion clinics or organizations like Planned Parenthood.
To put this in context, Planned Parenthood served 40 % of all Title X patients and Trump’s policies caused the abortion organization to drop out of the program.
Trump’s aggressive approach to abortion caused the American liberal-progressive base to take a close look at the Democratic candidates previous stance on abortion during the campaign season. Biden was the least radical of all the candidates, as he was the only one who still supported the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the funding of most abortions with federal funds except in exceptions of rape, incest and risk of death to the mother. But the questions were so fierce that Biden had to compromise and commit within his budget to eliminate the amendment, for which he needs the support of Congress.
This is how Biden went from being a “neutral term” to a great abortionist ally. Just upon arriving at the White House, the president, through a memorandum, rolled back several of Trump’s pro-life policies and pushed the pro-abortion agenda again. Planned Parenthood spokespeople went from being critical of the Democrat to publicly praising him.
“Both the global and domestic gag rule have caused immense harm, and we applaud today’s swift action by the Biden-Harris administration to address these dangerous policies. President Biden and Vice President Harris have already begun to right the wrongs of the past four years, but this should only be the beginning,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement.
“There is still much work to be done to ensure that all people have the freedom to make their own health care decisions such as putting an immediate end to unnecessary restrictions on access to abortion drugs, permanently repealing the global gag rule, and eliminating the discriminatory Hyde and Helms Amendments. We look forward to working with this administration and the pro-reproductive health majority in Congress to protect and expand sexual and reproductive health care rights and access for all people in the United States and around the world.”
In his budget plan, released last May, “President Biden’s budget proposal fulfills a campaign promise to remove a longstanding ban on federal funding for most abortions known as the Hyde Amendment,” reported National Public Radio (NPR).
Despite the president’s removal of the Hyde Amendment from his budget plan, abortion activists criticized the president for keeping the Helms Amendment, which prevents the U.S. government from funding abortions overseas through humanitarian aid.
However, the president is far from sticking solely to his campaign pledge to eliminate Hyde from his budget, he even dared to cross the thin red line of violating conscientious objection and religious freedom with the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor v Pennsylvania.
The case of the Little Sisters of the Poor is emblematic. They are a Catholic religious institute that cares for the elderly in poverty in nursing homes with employees who are provided health insurance.
The Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, required that all employers, with the exception of churches and religious groups, must include contraceptives, including potentially abortifacient pills, in their coverage. For a long time, the exception did not include schools, businesses or hospices; thus, the Little Sisters of the Poor did not fall under the exceptions. However, in 2017, former President Trump expanded the religious objection to virtually any employer.
In the aftermath, several states sued over Trump’s measure triggering a legal conflict that took the Little Sisters to the Supreme Court.
Even Justices Breyer and Kagan, considered to be from the liberal wing of the court, did not hesitate to give the Little Sisters the right to be exempt from providing health insurance that includes contraceptives and abortion pills to their employees. However, Biden did not respect the decision and said he would not attack the court’s ruling by restoring the policy that preceded Trump’s tenure. Basically, the formerly pro-life Catholic president is willing to violate conscientious objection, religious freedom and disrespect the Supreme Court in order to remain the great abortionist ally he has become.
Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón is a journalist at El American specializing in the areas of American politics and media analysis // Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón es periodista de El American especializado en las áreas de política americana y análisis de medios de comunicación.
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