Almost fifty years after Roe v. Wade, abortion remains the moral issue in American public discourse and politics.
There are very few profiles in courage in American politics. This seems especially true when it comes to the defense of unborn life. The political predicament of a pro-life politician is this -- the political class and the New York-Hollywood-Silicon Valley axis reward those who abandon pro-life positions and condemn those who refuse to surrender.
A particularly important profile in moral collapse now resides in the White House. The story of President Joe Biden's slippery shape-shifting on the abortion issue is both revealing and horrifying.
In response to the law in Texas that outlaws abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy, the fury of the Democratic Party and its national leadership has reached new levels of apoplexy.
The fury has been predictable given the state of the Democratic Party and its commitment to abortion on demand. On Thursday and Friday of last week, President Joe Biden made comments condemning the law, calling it "un-American" and ambiguously described "whole of government" efforts to oppose the Texas legislation.
The president, however, made another statement that deserves particular attention. For decades, Joe Biden rooted his views on abortion in his constantly repeated identity as a "devout Roman Catholic." He routinely describes himself as Catholic, and has repeatedly affirmed his agreement with Catholic doctrine affirming the absolute sanctity of unborn human life. The central contradiction of Joe Biden's public persona is that he has constantly claimed Catholic identity and "persona" [sic] pro-life convictions, while refusing to defend unborn life with any legislative consistency. From the beginning, he has opposed national efforts to reverse Roe v. Wade, which was handed down by the Supreme Court the very year that Joe Biden joined the United States Senate.
This is important -- Joe Biden has made clear, more than once, that he personally believes life begins at conception.
Until last Friday, that is, when, in condemning the Texas law, President Biden said: "I respect those who believe that life begins at conception -- I respect that. Don't agree but I respect that."
With those words, President Biden, the "devout Roman Catholic," threw the doctrine and teaching of the Roman Catholic Church out the window. Those of us who have been watching the moral collapse of Joe Biden knew this moment had to come. It came just days ago, but the story of Biden's surrender to the radical pro-abortion position has been progressing over decades, slowly, and then suddenly.
Tracing the "evolution" of President Biden's view on abortion is vital for understanding our present moral crisis. The chronicle of his views on the sanctity of life encapsulates the trajectory of the Democratic Party. It tells us about the worldview divide in the United States. It tells us a great deal about where we are as a nation and how easily a politician's convictions can evaporate in seconds.
Consider this timeline:
Joe Biden, who identified as a devout Roman Catholic, ran for the United States Senate from Delaware. Biden's Roman Catholic identity largely shielded him from questions about abortion. His election to the Senate came a year before the moral convulsion of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.
In the wake of Roe v. Wade in 1973, a bipartisan group of law makers gathered around what became known as the Hyde Amendment, which prevented the federal funding of abortions. The central issue was the understanding that American taxpayers, millions holding pro-life convictions, should not be forced by taxation to pay for abortions. Joe Biden supported this Amendment, voting for it in 1976. For context, the Hyde Amendment in 1976 did not carve out exemptions for rape or incest. He held this position supporting for forty-five years--that is until he didn't. Biden bragged constantly about his principled defense of the Hyde Amendment. But, as we shall see, all that changed within 24 hours in June of 2019, when Biden knew he had to reverse his position if he had any chance of gaining the 2020 Democratic nomination.
Senator Joe Biden voted against allowing Medicaid to fund abortions in the event of rape or incest.
Joe Biden voted for a Constitutional amendment process that would have allowed states to overturn Roe v. Wade. He later described that vote as, "The single most difficult vote I've cast as a US Senator." In that same year, he reaffirmed his opposition to federal funding of abortion in the cases of rape or incest. NPR News reported that Biden was "one of just two Democratic senators from the Northeast to vote to end federal funding for abortion for victims of rape and incest."
Joe Biden's view shifted. A year after voting for the constitutional amendment that would have allowed states to overturn Roe, he reversed his vote. He cast a vote against the same constitutional amendment that he voted for in 1981.
As a Senator, Joe Biden voted against allowing federal employees to use health insurance to pay for abortions.
Senator Biden told the Catholic Diocese Newspaper, "Abortion is wrong from the moment of conception." NBC News also reported that he "seemed to offer the National Conference of Catholic Bishops moral support in pushing for limits, noting that the most effective pro-life groups are those who keep trying to push back the frontier." Speaking of that frontier, Senator Biden said, "I think medical science is moving the frontier back so that by the year 2000, we're going to have more and more pressure, and rightfully so in my view, of moving back further and further the circumstances under which an abortion can be had."
After a scandal erupted over Biden's use of a British politician's speech, he withdrew from the race for the 1988 Democratic Party presidential nomination. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden orchestrates the effort to reject President Ronald Reagan's nomination of a conservative legal scholar, Judge Robert Bork, to the Supreme Court. Biden facilitates the opposition to Bork, citing the need to defend abortion rights and other court precedents.
Senator Biden wrote a letter to his constituents regarding a debate over the Clinton administration's healthcare proposals. He bragged that on no fewer than "fifty occasions," he voted against federal funding of abortion. He said, as a matter of principle, "Those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them."
Still in the United States Senate, Joe Biden told CNN that he was the odd man out among Democrats on the issue of abortion. He explained that he did support bans on abortion later in pregnancy, and he supported a ban on federal funding for abortions. He said, "I do not vote for federal funding for abortion. I voted against partial birth abortion to limit it, and I vote for no restrictions on a woman's right to be able to have an abortion under Roe v. Wade. I made everybody angry. I made the right angry because I won't support a Constitutional amendment or limitations on a woman's right to exercise their Constitutional right as defined by Roe v. Wade, and I've made the women's groups and others very angry because I won't support public funding and I won't support partial birth."
Here, we see then Senator Biden trying to situate himself as a thoughtful moderate--a middleman not beholden to either side in the abortion debate. Of course, this posture, cast as political courage, just serves to underline the contradictions in Biden's position.
Biden published his New York Times bestselling book, Promises to Keep, which anticipated his run for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States in 2008. He described himself as personally opposed to abortion and middle-of-the-road. He stated, "I refuse to impose my beliefs on other people." That language was the common moral evasion offered by politicians who supported abortion but claimed a religious identity that was pro-life. Figures such as Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, New York Governor Mario Cuomo, and many others, repeated this argument constantly. Liberal Catholic politicians tried to thread the needle of remaining faithful to Catholic doctrine while, on the other hand, satisfying their political base. To do this, the refrain of "not imposing my personal beliefs" became constant. But where is the consistency in believing that abortion is a grave moral evil and yet defending it as a "constitutional right?"
In Promises to Keep, Biden held to the belief that life is sacred and that abortion is wrong, but he said that he refuses to impose that view on others. He described, in his book, an exchange between himself and another senator in an elevator. Biden wrote of himself, "Well, my position is that I personally am opposed to abortion, but I don't think I have the right to impose my view on something I accept as a matter of faith on the rest of society. I've thought a lot about it and my position probably doesn't please anyone. I think government should stay out completely."
The Senator responded to Biden, suggesting that Biden's view was nonsensical and politically unhelpful, to which Biden quipped:
"Well, I will not vote to overturn the court's decision. I will not vote to curtail a woman's right to choose abortion, but I will also not vote to use federal funds to fund abortion. . . . Yeah, everybody will be upset with me, except me. I'm intellectually and morally comfortable with my position. . . . I've made life difficult for myself by putting intellectual consistency and personal principles above expediency. I'm perfectly able to take the politically expedient way on issues that don't seem fundamental, especially when a colleague I trust needs help, but by and large, I follow my own nose and I make no apologies for being difficult to pigeonhole."
In a way that should have been embarrassing, Biden presented himself in this autobiography as a paragon of moral courage--he claimed to live by intellectual consistency above political expediency. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
When it comes to the abortion debate, the fundamental question everyone must answer is this: When does human life begin? The only consistent answer to that is from the moment of fertilization, and, in 2008, Joe Biden said, "I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life beings at the moment of conception."
Upon reflection, those words, however, meant something different than what many Catholics and virtually all evangelical Christians would mean. Biden rooted his belief regarding the sanctity of life in his own personal faith, not in any absolute truth. For Biden, as a matter of faith clearly meant not as a matter of policy.
Now serving as vice-president of the United States, Joe Biden gave an interview to America Magazine, a prominent Catholic periodical. The interviewer, Matt Malone, asked the vice-president about positions that he held which collided with the bishops, especially on issues like abortion. Oddly, Malone asked, "Has that been hard for you?"
Biden responded, "It has been, it's been hard in one sense because I'm prepared to accept de fide doctrine on a whole range of issues as a Catholic, even though, as you know, Aquinas argued about in his Summa Theologica, about human life and being when it occurs. I'm prepared to accept as a matter of faith--my wife and I, my family--the issue of abortion, but what I'm not prepared to do is impose a precise view that is born out of my faith on other people who are equally God-fearing, equally as committed to life, equally as committed to the sanctity of life. I'm prepared to say that to other God-fearing, non-God-fearing people that have a different view."
This was quintessential Biden. Here, he continues to try to thread the political needle. He tries to affirm his belief in the de fide doctrine of his church regarding abortion and the sanctity of human life. De fide, by the way, means an absolute doctrine of faith. To disagree with de fide doctrine is oppose official doctrine. Thus, while Biden attempts to position himself as in line with his church's teaching, he also states that he will not use public policy to defend that view, even when the issue at stake is nothing less than human life.
At this point, things for Joe Biden move quickly as he tries to keep up with the pro-abortion progression of his own party. By 2016, the Democratic platform had called for the elimination of the Hyde Amendment and for opposition to any restriction on abortion.
In a crucial 24-hour period, with Biden's chance at the 2020 nomination slipping away, he reversed himself in a 180-degree turn. His supposed stand on conviction just evaporated. On June 5, 2019, Joe Biden reaffirmed his commitment to the Hyde Amendment. Twenty-four hours later on June 6, Joe Biden did a complete turn. He said, "If I believe healthcare is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone's zip code."
In other words, even as Biden had claimed intellectual consistency over political expediency, he surrendered a nearly fifty-year-old core conviction--and he did so, to be clear, because he so desperately wanted the 2020 nomination. Once it became clear that he would not be allowed within 100 yards of the Democratic nomination for president while clinging to Hyde, he sang a different tune, coming out as aggressively opposed to the Hyde Amendment.
Biden ran in the election on a radically pro-abortion agenda and has made good on his promises. In 2021, he issued a series of executive orders such as striking down the Mexico City Policy, which limited American funds used for abortions and abortion advocacy overseas. He reinstated Title X funding for Planned Parenthood. He seeks the repeal of they [sic] Hyde Amendment and fully supports a taxpayer funded system for abortions on demand. His presidential appointments, ranging across the government and the judiciary, have been predictably "progressive."
Then, last Friday, came Biden's final act of surrender.
On September 3rd, 2021, Joe Biden stated, "I respect those who believe life begins at the moment of conception. I respect that--don't agree--but I respect that."
So much for courage and conviction. So much for resisting the headwinds of political expediency. A half-century career of stating that life begins at conception and that the American taxpayer should not be forced into paying for abortions is now gone. This was a spectacular reversal on a fundamental issue of morality.
This sad story is not just about an American politician's compromise. It is not even just the story of an American president and his political "evolution."
The story of Joe Biden raises important questions we all must answer: How will we define when human life begins? Will we stand upon that conviction, no matter the cost?
Our answer to those questions is, make no mistake, a matter of life or death.
Republished with permission from AlbertMohler.com
R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as the ninth president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of numerous books including The Gathering Storm. His podcast The Briefing offers a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.