Biden Is Now an Uneasy Champion on Abortion. Activists Are Still Wary.
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court’s decision to end America’s constitutional right to abortion after nearly 50 years has sparked a generational battle against Republican efforts to ban abortion in states across the country.
But inside the West Wing, President Biden has made it clear that he is uncomfortable even using the word abortion, according to current and former advisers. In speeches and public statements, he prefers to use the word sparingly, focusing instead on broader phrases like “reproductive health” and “choice” that are likely to resonate more broadly with the public.
Mr Biden, a devout Catholic who has used his faith to shape his political identity, is now being asked to lead a fight he has spent decades avoiding — and many abortion rights advocates fear he is currently Probably not the right messenger.
Biden, once a thorough critic of abortion rights and later a staunch and quiet defender of abortion rights, has given activists pause for his history.
“When this happened, I was sure it wasn’t necessarily the guy most activists wanted,” said Jamie L. Manson, president of Catholics for Choice, referring to the court’s overturning of Rowe Judgment in Iraq v. Wade. “It’s unfortunate because he has such power and we need him to really step out of his comfort zone.”
For five years, Mr. Biden has spoken out about his religious power, portraying himself as an advocate for workers and a warrior for social justice. His beliefs also led him toward what he once called a “middle way” approach to abortion — essentially, not voting to restrict abortion, but not voting for it.
Like other Democrats of his generation, Mr. Biden used Roe v. Wade protections to avoid pushing legislation that could codify the ruling into federal law.
Now, a growing number of women’s groups, progressive Democrats and abortion rights activists see the decision to overturn Roe as an indictment of that middle ground, saying Democrats like Mr. Biden have been too much on the issue for years. Be careful.
The Supreme Court’s decision must be met with an equally drastic legal, political and rhetorical response, they said. After last week’s decisive vote to defend abortion rights in ultra-conservative Kansas, many Democrats saw this as a time for more confidence on the issue.
Mr Biden’s advisers say his views on abortion have changed over time and he is firmly committed to abortion rights. Lafonza Butler, president of Emily’s List, a group that helps elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, said she was pleased with Biden and his team “using every tool at their disposal” to fight for the cause.
But the president’s history on abortion — shaped by his religious beliefs and years of cautious political calculation by Democrats — makes it difficult for him to meet the expectations of those in the party who want new strategies and energy.
“Yes, the executive branch has limited power, and there are limits to what the president can do,” said Andrea Miller, director of the National Institute of Reproductive Health. “But it just feels like you have to push the boundaries right now. It’s a time to go all out. It’s time to take risks.”
Read more about abortion in America
In 2007, Biden wrote in his memoir, “Keeping the Promise,” that his stance on abortion “has earned me the distrust of some women’s groups.” In the book, he recounts a 1973 conversation with a senior senator who said his cautious approach was “tough.”
“‘Yes, everyone will be mad at me,’ I told him, ‘except me. But I am intellectually and morally comfortable with where I stand,'” Mr Biden wrote in the book.
Now, he finds himself championing abortion rights. In June, just days after the court ruling, a reporter appeared angry when he noticed that some activists did not think he was the right person to lead the fight against the Republican ban on the process.
“I’m the only president they got,” he said.
Shaped by Faith
Mr. Biden has often said that his views on abortion — and the proper role the government plays in regulating it — are the result of his beliefs. In 1982, when he voted for a Republican-promoted constitutional amendment to allow states to overturn Roe v. Wade, he said: “I could be my victim, or my product, whatever you want. How to express it. Background.”
The Catholic Church believes that human life begins with conception, and says it is always immoral to “deliberately kill a person in the womb”. Church teaching generally allows “indirect” abortion when a medical procedure required for another life-saving reason results in the death of the fetus. But many Catholics disagree with the church’s official position.in a Pew Research Center survey 60% of U.S. Catholics, released last month, said abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances.
Other Democratic politicians are also facing tough times in their positions on the issue. Leaders of the U.S. Catholic Church have publicly condemned the positions of Catholic politicians such as former Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
By his own admission, Mr. Biden is a devout man who rarely misses the opportunity to attend Mass.
Last year, in the seaside town of St Ives, in Cornwall, on the southern tip of England, Mr Biden, who was attending the annual G7 meeting with world leaders, slipped into the back seats of the Churches of the Sacred Heart and St. Eia. Attend Mass with about 50 other parishioners. Just minutes before the arrival of the president and his wife, the Rev. Philip Dyson was reminded.
“I did find him well-mannered, humble and a gentleman,” Father Dyson said, recalling a brief conversation after Mass. The priest would not discuss whether he offered communion to the president during the service. Some Roman Catholic bishops believe that pro-abortion politicians should be denied communion.
“It’s controversial, it’s between him and the Lord,” Father Dyson said.
Abortion has been part of Mr Biden’s faith and has been a source of conflict between the president and his allies for years, said John Carr, director of the Catholic Social Thought and Public Life Initiative at Georgetown University.
“He is a product of Catholic social teaching and democratic orthodoxy,” said Mr. Carr, who has participated in several panels on religion and politics with Mr. Biden. “When the two were together, he was very happy with the way he spoke and acted. The last place he was away from home was where the two clashed.”
turn to abortion
The president’s allies noted that since the Supreme Court ruling, Biden has issued two executive orders aimed at protecting the right to travel for medical care and access to medicines. Last week, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit in Idaho alleging the state illegally restricts abortion when surgery is needed to stabilize a woman’s health.
“The president’s beliefs are not our problem,” said Rep. Katherine M. Clark, D-Mass. and Assistant Speaker. “The problem is an extremist Republican saying, ‘We don’t respect your beliefs, your medical history, your condition.'”
But for most of his career, Mr. Biden has been viewed with suspicion by abortion-rights advocates because of his history on the issue.
In 1984, Mr. Biden voted to praise the “Mexico City Policy,” a decision by the Reagan administration to block funding for abortion services abroad. It’s a repulsive position for today’s Democratic president. In the years since, Republican presidents have often reinstated the policy while Democrats have removed it. Mr Biden canceled it eight days after taking office.
For years, Mr. Biden has also refused to join other Democrats in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a federal ban on funding abortions. It wasn’t until 2019 that he turned himself around. Faced with backlash from his party, he said he “cannot support an amendment” that would make it harder for low-income women to get abortions. Although he submitted the budget without Hyde’s restrictive language, lawmakers put it back in.
As vice president, Mr. Biden worked to exempt Catholic institutions from the Affordable Care Act requirements to provide contraceptive coverage. The rule has been strongly opposed by U.S. Catholic bishops, who Mr Biden has tried to defend.
He ultimately lost, although the contraceptive order was later struck down by the Supreme Court.
Katherine Sebelius, who served as secretary of health and human services under President Barack Obama, said Mr Biden wanted to “just avoid conflict with the church.”
“I think that’s where he started the conversation,” she said. But she recalled that Mr. Biden eventually acknowledged that denying birth control coverage would have an impact on people working in Catholic institutions.
“He started in one place and gradually moved to a very different place,” she said.
On other issues where Democratic positions conflict with Catholic teachings, such as support for same-sex marriage, Mr. Biden has been quicker to change positions, Mr. Carr said, noting what he called the president’s “passion and eloquence” on LGBTQ issues.
But he said an abortion always seemed more difficult for the president.
“Biden has never sought power to make abortion more accessible,” Mr Carr said. “It’s not part of him.”
The president also acknowledged this in a 2007 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“I’m a devout Catholic,” he said. “This is my biggest dilemma in terms of my religious and cultural views and my political responsibilities.”
lack of trust
Two days before the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, abortion-rights advocates met at the White House with some of Biden’s top aides and Vice President Kamala Harris, who has become the administration’s leader on abortion. Powerful spokesperson.
After Politico issued a draft opinion on the abortion case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health a few weeks ago, everyone knew what was likely to happen. But some in the room were unhappy with the government’s plans to respond to the ruling.
“It’s been a very frustrating meeting and we’re looking to the White House for guidance,” said Ms Manson of Catholics for Choice. “Instead, what we got was a review of all the conversations they had with all of us.”
Others at the meeting described it differently, saying the administration had spent weeks preparing for Dobbs’ ruling in a series of productive meetings with activists.
But the frustration clearly underscores the tension between Mr. Biden and abortion-rights activists, many of whom have said publicly that the president’s past positions have made it hard for them to believe he’s going all out.
Aides to Mr. Biden noted that he has used the term “abortion” several times since the ruling.and in a Statement on Saturday The White House has condemned a new Indiana law that bans nearly all abortions, using the term to reiterate support for reproductive rights.
But some veterans of the abortion-rights movement say they remain wary of a president unaccustomed to using the term. Others said they were willing to judge Biden on his behavior.
Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said Biden’s approach is valuable and could appeal to a wider audience. But she said the president should not avoid using direct, forceful language when people are afraid.
“He did it,” she said. “And he needs to feel more comfortable about it, because this is the modern Democrat. He’s getting there, as far as I know.”
Katie Rogers reporting from Washington, and Maggie Haberman from New York.