Biden’s old abortion equation

340xWhile the religion angle was soft in first-day coverage, expect plenty of references to Sen. Joe Biden and his rosary beads in the days ahead.

The New York Times offered a very straight-forward reference to Biden’s very public Catholic faith and, of course, linked that to the obvious issue linked to Sen. Barack Obama’s efforts to reach out to pro-life liberals in Catholic and Protestant pews:

Mr. Biden is Roman Catholic, giving him appeal to that important voting bloc, though he favors abortion rights. He was born in a working-class family in Scranton, Pa., a swing state where he remains well-known. Mr. Biden is up for re-election to the Senate this year and he would presumably run simultaneously for both seats. …

Mr. Biden has run twice for the presidency himself, in 1988 and again in 2008, dropping out early in both cases. He was also the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during two of the most contentious Supreme Court nomination battles of the past 50 years: the confirmation proceedings for Robert H. Bork, who was defeated, and Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed after an explosive hearing in which Anita Hill had accused Mr. Thomas of sexual harassment. Mr. Biden led the opposition to both nominations, although he came under criticism from some feminists for not immediately disclosing what were at first Ms. Hill’s closed-door accusations against Mr. Thomas.

While pro-life conservatives are sure to note Biden’s strong support for abortion rights — his most recent National Right to Life rating was 0 percent — his past is a bit more complex. Like many Democrats who once ran as moderates — think Sen. Al Gore — Biden has moved left as he tried to “go national.”

However, the God-o-Meter over at Beliefnet.com offers information about Biden’s Catholic identity that suggests that this was almost certainly a key factor in his selection by Obama. The key question: Was Biden’s mixed record on abortion in the past — viewed from the perspective of the strictly pro-abortion-rights camp — complex enough that many Catholic bishops will say that he has never completely supported the nation’s current abortion-on-demand regime. Biden voted, for example, for legislation against Partial-Birth Abortion.

As Beliefnet.com czar Steve Waldman noted:

But choosing a pro-choice Catholic could backfire because the Bishops and others will attack him or her for being a bad Catholic. Choosing a full-blown pro-life Catholic would alienate pro-choice, independent women and Hillary voters. Biden is pro-choice but got a low rating from abortion rights groups (60% in 2007, 39% in 2003). In other words, he’s Catholic enough to appeal to Catholics, pro-life enough to avoid Bishop attacks, and pro-choice enough to satisfy Hillary voters.

So, all together now, let’s say the Biden quote that Catholic supporters of Obama-Biden will be noting frequently in the days ahead.

“I get comfort from carrying my rosary, going to mass every Sunday. It’s my time alone.”

As you would expect, traditional Catholics are going to roll their eyes, big time. As the conservative Catholic Culture weblog quickly noted:

In an odd way, the Obama-Biden ticket might be helpful to the pro-life movement, insofar as both Democratic candidates have been willing to discuss the question of whether or not human life begins at conception. (Biden has acknowledged that it does.) Any public discussion of that issue can only help the pro-life cause, because the scientific facts are hard to deny.

Biden’s presence on the ticket also ensures a fresh debate on whether or not pro-abortion Catholic politicians should receive Communion. On that issue, too, the discussion can only be helpful.

Help us watch for mainstream-press coverage of the Catholic debates in the days ahead.

Speaking of which, does anyone know if Denver’s Catholic archbishop was invited to offer an invocation during the upcoming Democratic National Convention?

Photo: Getty Images.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Francis X. Maier

    The archbishop was not invited to offer any prayer at the convention and was not invited to attend until 11 days before the event.

  • Susan

    Archbishop Chaput is known for his orthodoxy and his willingness to directly confront controversial issues. There is no way that he was wanted at the Democratic Convention.

  • http://alypiusminor.wordrpress.com alypius

    Biden’s not going to help Obama any with Catholics. Take a look at this article from a few years ago, from a Cincinnati paper:

    http://news.cincinnati.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051023/NEWS0103/510230466

    My favorite quote is where Biden says “the next Republican who tells me I’m not religious I’m going to shove my rosary beads down his throat.”

    But he will make your job at GetReligion a lot more fun, I think.

  • Reader John

    “I get comfort from carrying my rosary, going to mass every Sunday. It’s my time alone.”

    Where’s the tangible human community or the great cloud of witnesses in the Senator’s “time alone”? Does he, perhaps, notice that there’s something called “worship” going on around him? Biden’s “comfort” and “time alone” sound rather like moralistic therapeutic deism, not any recognizably Christian faith.
    In fairness, though, few religious pronouncements by politicians have much substance to them.

  • Stephen A.

    In all the reports I saw on cable news networks today (and I have read no newspapers) I did not hear once that he was a pro-abortion Catholic. That’s negligence.

    Interestingly, I’ve constantly heard and read (in online newspapers and poltiical sites) that McCain is considering, actively, chosing a pro-abortion runningmate. Always, of course, with how angry it will make ‘the base.’

    And that’s true, but it’s interesting that there seemingly was little debate about Obama appointing a pro-life VP – not that it wasn’t the case, but there was no debate or discussion in the media about how that would be recieved. Apparently, because there’s a HUGE litmus test on this issue with the Dems that disqualifies candidates, even moreso than in the GOP these days.

  • Jerry

    I had a private bet with myself about how fast there would be a blog post on Biden and abortion since abortion is one of the staples here. I don’t understand the NRLC ‘zero’ ranking at all given his voting record – compare the 36% NARAL ranking: http://www.ontheissues.org/senate/joe_biden.htm
    In full, here is the relevant section from the site:

    * No public funding for abortion; it imposes a view. (Apr 2007)
    * Supports partial-birth abortion ban, but not undoing Roe. (Apr 2007)
    * Accepts Catholic church view that life begins at conception. (Apr 2007)
    * Nominees should agree on constitutional right to privacy. (Apr 2007)
    * Voted NO on defining unborn child as eligible for SCHIP. (Mar 2008)
    * Voted NO on prohibiting minors crossing state lines for abortion. (Mar 2008)
    * Voted YES on expanding research to more embryonic stem cell lines. (Apr 2007)
    * Voted NO on notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions. (Jul 2006)
    * Voted YES on $100M to reduce teen pregnancy by education & contraceptives. (Mar 2005)
    * Voted NO on criminal penalty for harming unborn fetus during other crime. (Mar 2004)
    * Voted NO on maintaining ban on Military Base Abortions. (Jun 2000)
    * Voted YES on banning partial birth abortions. (Oct 1999)
    * Voted NO on banning human cloning. (Feb 1998)
    * Rated 36% by NARAL, indicating a mixed voting record on abortion. (Dec 2003)
    * Expand embryonic stem cell research. (Jun 2004)
    * Rated 0% by the NRLC, indicating a pro-choice stance. (Dec 2006)
    * Ensure access to and funding for contraception. (Feb 2007)

  • Stephen A.

    That’s enlightening, Jerry, thanks for posting that. I’m a bit surprised to see them rating him (down, apparently) for “Accepts Catholic church view that life begins at conception.” That’s pretty bold, as if the RCC was an opposition party.

  • http://www.nrlc.org Douglas Johnson

    Biden is a supporter of Roe v. Wade, and his voting record is largely pro-abortion. However, his record on certain pro-life issues is contrary to Obama’s positions — which is to say, while Obama has always embraced the most expansively pro-abortion option of those placed before him, there are several specific issues on which Biden has not. These spring immediately to mind:

    Obama vs. Biden on Partial-Birth Abortion

    The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was enacted in 2003, with Senator Biden’s support, and was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in April, 2007. (For more about the content and significance of this legislation, go to here) At that time, Barack Obama sharply criticized the U.S. Supreme Court for its ruling, saying, “I strongly disagree with today’s Supreme Court ruling . . .” Regarding Biden: “I voted for the partial-birth abortion ban,” said [Sen. Joe] Biden while answering a woman’s question at a conference sponsored by the National Jewish Democratic Council. “I think it’s an extraordinary circumstance, I make no apologies for it.” ABCNews.com, April 24, 2007.

    Obama vs. Biden on tax-funded abortions

    Barack Obama advocates federal funding of abortion, and while in the Illinois legislature he voted against legislation to restrict state funding of abortion on demand. That is consistent with the policy advocated in the proposed 2008 Democratic Party platform, which says, “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay . . .” In short, Obama and the platform favor repeal of the Hyde Amendment and the other laws that prevent funding of abortion in federal programs such as Medicaid. But Senator Biden has been voting for those laws for decades. Biden has written, “I might also add that I find it difficult to understand how those who refuse to limit the right of abortion in this country can at the same time support the expansion of the government’s financial involvement in providing for abortions. That is why I have been a consistent supporter of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of Medicaid funds to finance abortions. I believe that it is not the government’s business to be promoting abortion in any way.” (Letter, June 16, 1983)

    Obama v. Biden on Born-Alive Infants Protection legislation

    On 2001, Biden voted for the language of the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (BAIPA), which recognizes babies who are born alive during abortions as legally protected persons, while we recently proved that Obama killed a virtually identical bill in the Illinois State Senate in 2003. For more information on Obama’s documented record on the live-born abortion survivors issue — as contrasted with his claims — go here

    For further information:
    Douglas Johnson
    Legislative Director
    National Right to Life Committee
    202-626-8820
    Legfederal@aol.com

  • Michael V

    It seems like I’ve read “He’s a Catholic [with blue collar roots]” fifty times today, usually alongside something about his foreign policy experience. First of all, are Catholics more likely to vote for other Catholics? That is the implication, isn’t it? Or is his Catholicism merely supposed to add spice to his blue-collar street cred?

    If Catholics are more likely to vote for a Catholic candidate, is that for identification reasons or ideological ones? And if it’s the latter, does being Catholic still help a candidate who takes a stand against Catholic moral teaching? Might pro-life Catholics – given the choice – even prefer a pro-choice non-Catholic to a pro-choice Catholic?

  • FW Ken

    Did I miss someone posting tmatt’s taxonomy of the Catholic vote?

    A wise DC-based Catholic priest once told me that there are actually four Catholic votes, defined by faith and practice, not politics.

    * Ex-Catholic vote.

    * Cultural Catholic/several Masses a year Catholic vote.

    * Sunday only, I’m OK at the Catholic cafeteria vote.

    * Catholics who sweat the details and go to confession vote.

    It’s helpful to keep this list (or similar ones) in mind when someone makes any sort of comment about “Catholics”. Anyone ever baptized in the Catholic Church can claim to be a Catholic. Or, as was happening recently in Dallas, anyone who purchases sacraments from someone calling himself a Catholic bishop can claim to be a Catholic.

  • str1977

    Jerry and Stephen,

    I agree that Biden hasn’t quite deserved 0% but given the record as cited by NARAL he should get a 1% or 2%.

    The only vote against the NARAL’s cause was the partial birth abortion votes (two votes but the identical content), which certainly qualifies Biden as a pro-abortion human being instead of a pro-abortion monster. This vote makes Obama’s position on this vicious und unnecessary practice even more telling.

    And the other point, “Accepts Catholic church view that life begins at conception. (Apr 2007)”

    Yes, NARAL considers the RCC as the opposition party. It also uses it as a whipping boy to paint any opponents Catholic. And of course, the above view is not actually the “Catholic church view” but the basic scientific fact.

    More relevant for a possible future president is the bit “Nominees should agree on constitutional right to privacy. (Apr 2007)”, basically saying nominees (I assume judicial nominees) have to swear allegiance to unlimited abortion.

  • http://www.nrlc.org Douglas Johnson

    As legislative director for National Right to Life, I may be able to provide some helpful additional information on Biden’s record.

    Senator Biden is a strong supporter of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling, which mandated abortion on demand. He has played a leading role in blocking or trying to block the nominees to the Supreme Court who were opposed by pro-abortion advocacy groups, such as Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, and Samuel Alito. Biden has not voted on the pro-life side on any roll call vote scored by National Right to Life since 2003.

    However, Biden’s record on certain pro-life issues is contrary to the positions that Obama has taken — which is to say, while Obama has always embraced the most expansively pro-abortion policy option of those placed before him, there are several specific issues on which Biden has not done that. These divergences actually illustrate some of the extremes of Obama’s record. For example:

    Obama vs. Biden on Partial-Birth Abortion

    The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was enacted in 2003, with Senator Biden’s support, and was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in April, 2007. (For more about the content and significance of this legislation, go here) At that time, Barack Obama sharply criticized the U.S. Supreme Court for its ruling, saying, “I strongly disagree with today’s Supreme Court ruling . . .” As to Biden: “I voted for the partial-birth abortion ban,” said [Sen. Joe] Biden while answering a woman’s question at a conference sponsored by the National Jewish Democratic Council. “I think it’s an extraordinary circumstance, I make no apologies for it.” ABCNews.com, April 24, 2007.

    Obama vs. Biden on tax-funded abortions

    Barack Obama advocates federal funding of abortion, and while in the Illinois legislature he voted against legislation to restrict state funding of abortion on demand. That is consistent with the policy advocated in the proposed 2008 Democratic Party platform, which says, “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay . . .” In short, Obama and the platform favor repeal of the Hyde Amendment and the other laws that prevent funding of abortion in federal programs such as Medicaid. But Senator Biden has been voting for many of those laws for decades. Biden has written, “I might also add that I find it difficult to understand how those who refuse to limit the right of abortion in this country can at the same time support the expansion of the government’s financial involvement in providing for abortions. That is why I have been a consistent supporter of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of Medicaid funds to finance abortions. I believe that it is not the government’s business to be promoting abortion in any way.” (Letter, June 16, 1983)

    Obama v. Biden on Born-Alive Infants Protection legislation

    On 2001, Biden voted for the language of the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (BAIPA), which recognizes babies who are born alive during abortions as legally protected persons, while we recently released documents proving that Obama killed a virtually identical bill in the Illinois State Senate in 2003. For more information on Obama’s documented record on the live-born abortion survivors issue — as contrasted with his claims — go here

    For further information:
    Douglas Johnson
    Legislative Director
    National Right to Life Committee
    202-626-8820
    Legfederal@aol.com

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    This came in as an email, with a request that I post it:

    *****

    As legislative director for National Right to Life, I may be able to provide some helpful additional information on Biden’s record.

    Senator Biden is a strong supporter of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling, which mandated abortion on demand. He has played a leading role in blocking or trying to block the nominees to the Supreme Court who were opposed by pro-abortion advocacy groups, such as Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, and Samuel Alito. Biden has not voted on the pro-life side on any roll call vote scored by National Right to Life since 2003.

    However, Biden’s record on certain pro-life issues is contrary to the positions that Obama has taken — which is to say, while Obama has always embraced the most expansively pro-abortion policy option of those placed before him, there are several specific issues on which Biden has not done that. These divergences actually illustrate some of the extremes of Obama’s record. For example:

    Obama vs. Biden on Partial-Birth Abortion

    The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was enacted in 2003, with Senator Biden’s support, and was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in April, 2007. (For more about the content and significance of this legislation, go to:

    http://www.nrlc.org/abortion/pba/PBAall110403.html

    At that time, Barack Obama sharply criticized the U.S. Supreme Court for its ruling, saying, “I strongly disagree
    with today’s Supreme Court ruling …”

    As to Biden: “I voted for the partial-birth abortion ban,” said [Sen. Joe] Biden while answering a woman’s question at a conference sponsored by the National Jewish Democratic Council. “I think it’s an extraordinary circumstance, I make no apologies for it.” ABCNews.com, April 24, 2007.

    Obama vs. Biden on tax-funded abortions

    Barack Obama advocates federal funding of abortion, and while in the Illinois legislature he voted against legislation to restrict state funding of abortion on demand. That is consistent with the policy advocated in the proposed 2008 Democratic Party platform, which says, “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay …”

    In short, Obama and the platform favor repeal of the Hyde Amendment and the other laws that prevent funding of abortion in federal programs such as Medicaid. But Senator Biden has been voting for many of those laws for decades. Biden has written, “I might also add that I find it difficult to understand how those who refuse to limit the right of abortion in this country can at the same time support the expansion of the government’s financial involvement in providing for abortions. That is why I have been a consistent supporter of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of Medicaid funds to finance abortions. I believe that it is not the government’s business to be promoting abortion in any way.” (Letter, June 16, 1983)

    Obama v. Biden on Born-Alive Infants Protection legislation

    On 2001, Biden voted for the language of the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (BAIPA), which recognizes babies who are born alive during abortions as legally protected persons, while we recently released documents proving that Obama killed a virtually identical bill in the Illinois State Senate in 2003. For more information on Obama’s documented record on the live-born abortion survivors issue — as contrasted with his claims — go to:

    http://www.nrlc.org/ObamaBAIPA/Obamacoveruponbornalive.htm

    Douglas Johnson
    Legislative Director
    National Right to Life Committee
    Legfederal at aol.com

  • http://rhrealitycheck.org Michelle

    This article suggests those of us in the pews, who are less rigidly political than many comments above, and believe the church should be too, are not alone in our support for Obama-Biden. I’m glad to see Joe on the ticket, and agree, the more discussion from real Catholics there is, the more people will understand that certain groups don’t speak for all of us.

  • Jerry

    For those that do not consider abortion the only religious topic worth discussing when it comes to the political realm, there are a plethora of reviews of Biden including this one:http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles_of_faith/2008/08/joe_bidens_cath.html

  • Martha

    tmatt, to anwer your question about Archbishop Chaput:

    http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/

    “The Democratic convention begins tomorrow in Denver and as the new release from the city’s top prelate racks up the high-watt airtime, Archbishop Charles Chaput said earlier today that given his “seriously wrong” abortion stance, Biden should refrain from the Communion line:

    Biden “has admirable qualities to his public service,” Chaput said in his statement. “But his record of support for so-called abortion ‘rights,’ while mixed at times, is seriously wrong. I certainly presume his good will and integrity — and I presume that his integrity will lead him to refrain from presenting himself for Communion, if he supports a false ‘right’ to abortion.”

    Chaput added that he looks forward to speaking with Biden privately.
    While the political parties have a long history of inviting a host city’s ordinary to lead their convention floors in prayer, the Capuchin prelate was merely offered an observer’s pass to this week’s events. Instead, Sister of St Joseph Catherine Pinkerton — an 86 year-old leader of the church social-justice lobby Network — will offer the benediction to close Wednesday’s session.

    Incidentally, as a result of yesterday’s announcement, Pinkerton’s prayer will immediately follow Biden’s acceptance speech.”

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The Obama- Biden game is as old as the Catholic Church. Find a Catholic political leader who will rattle his rosary beads while primarily trashing Catholic and traditional Christian teachings. How better to either divide Catholics or lead many Catholics into believing evil is no big deal???
    Now that Biden is Obama’s man what will become of the few life issues Biden disagrees with him on?? Will he speak as a Christian and a Catholic??? Is it now OK by Biden to exterminate a child as it is born??? Obama’s and Biden’s stands on this issue couldn’t be more diametrically opposed. But will the in-the-tank-for Obama MSM even cross-examine Biden on this and on the few (but in many cases very crucial) other points of abortion disgreement???
    And if Biden now comes out in support of Obama’s stance in favor of not banning partial-birth abortion, prattling about using rosary beads won’t win him the votes of any sincere Catholic. Rather, it will only highlight the hypocrisy and power-hunger that infects too many American Catholic politicians for whom Faith is an expendable commodity when it stands in the way of advancement.

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