Itt’s a side of Joe Biden the public rarely sees. Friends who’ve endured lengthy car rides with him or joined in his impromptu huddles after mass know that chewing over the ins and outs of religious thought is a time-honored pastime for the country’s second Catholic President.
This interest was sparked by news of a Supreme Court draft ruling, which would have ended nationwide abortion protections. Roe V. Wade. Biden, as he was about to depart Washington for an Alabama missile factory to be made for Ukraine by the time he referred to the 13th-century Italian philosopher Thomas Aquinas in a conversation with reporters.
President Aquinas pointed out that Aquinas, a Catholic saint, once believed that life started when pregnant women could feel their child moving. This view is 800 years old and runs counter to current Catholic teachings.
“Roe says what all basic mainstream religions have historically concluded,” Biden told reporters, “that the existence of a human life and being is a question.” The idea that the Supreme Court would limit the ability of people to make that judgment when religious thinkers have been disagreeing about it for a millennium, “goes way overboard,” he said.
Biden responded to the Supreme Court draft opinions. He stated that it was no longer possible for him to defend abortion rights. He’s embraced a new role as the head of the party leading the effort. Soon after the leak, Biden came out forcefully in defense of a woman’s right to choose as “fundamental” and said he would work to sign into law a bill that codifies the access to abortion protected under the 1973 decision. He hasn’t lost his old habits of mind though. While speaking to reporters as Air Force One engines whirred, he used the phrase “abort a child” to describe ending a pregnancy, a phrase often used by those opposed to abortion.
This hasn’t always been a comfortable position for Joe Biden, a life-long Catholic who grew up with church doctrine that teaches abortion is a sin. Biden voted in the 1980s for a constitutional change that would allow states to reverse it. Roe V. Wade. Biden gave up his long-standing support of the Hyde Amendment in 1970s, a law that prevented federal funding from subsidizing abortions.
Recently, pro-choice advocates have publicly called on Biden to visit an abortion clinic to bring more attention to the issue, but the White House hasn’t confirmed any such visit is being planned.
“He’s being pushed to adopt and defend and legislate on the position of the party, which historically wasn’t his in the mid-70s. He has changed his mind.” says Massimo Faggioli, a theology professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania and author of Joe Biden, Catholicism and the United States.
If the Supreme Court decides to repeal, Roe V. WadeBiden as a Democrat, and a Catholic will soon find themselves in uncharted territory. His position for most of his political life was that he was personally against abortion, but didn’t think lawmakers should legislate for the whole country on the basis of church doctrine. Biden says that he is now pushing for the protection of abortion rights in all states.
This will only increase already simmering tensions in the Catholic Church about how to react to President Obama’s views becoming a part of their flock. Biden has had an open relationship with Pope Francis and they have maintained a close friendship. The Pope has been especially supportive of Biden’s welcoming views on immigration and his emphasis on the role of government in relieving poverty. However, if Biden increases his push to protect abortion access, this could create tension in the relationship. A few American bishops already called on Biden not to receive the Catholic rite for communion because of his abortion position.
“For those who have defended him—a few bishops in this country, a few cardinals in Rome, and Pope Francis—it will become more difficult to do it in public,” says Faggioli.
Plans are being made inside the White House to position Biden in the best possible light as the issue of abortion becomes a top-of-mind issue during midterm elections across the nation. According to internal Democratic polling, the issue may swing women voters towards Republicans by just a few percentage points. This could change the outcome. However, strategists advised Biden not to mention religion in his remarks and to emphasize the fact that Democrats fight to protect women’s rights that have been theirs for over 50 years. “It’s not a question of religious beliefs, but a question of rights.” says a former advisor in the Biden White House. “Do you believe someone has the right to choose?”
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