Joe Biden’s Remarkable Incoherence on Abortion

The ill-tempered aggression of Joe Biden — whether he was laughing and grinning in the first half or growling and shouting in the second — made the Vice Presidential debate last night a painful thing to watch.  Biden was clearly eager to heed the call of Obama supporters to go on offense and attack Romney/Ryan.  I suspect he was also eager to discard his popular image as a genial, slightly crazy uncle who keeps putting his foot in his mouth.  If that was the mission, he succeeded.  He did not come across as genial at all.

Some of the liberal commentators who recognized that Biden came across as an angry and condescending thought that his finest moments were at the end, when he grew earnest and opined on his faith, abortion and religious freedom.  I thought those were his worst.

Here’s why.  While atheist mega-blogger Hemant Mehta celebrates him for it, Biden’s assertion that he accepts his church’s position that life begins at conception but refuses to “impose” that viewpoint on others is simply incoherent.  It’s like saying “I am firmly convinced that global climate change is near catastrophic levels, but I don’t believe I can impose that viewpoint on others.”  Or “I accept the position that homeless people are human and should not be killed, but I can’t ask others to live according to my beliefs.”

If you believe, as the Catholic church does, that a sacred human life begins at conception, you simply cannot do nothing.  What you are asserting (sacred human life begins at conception) is not a matter of subjective taste.  It’s an assertion of fact.  And if you are truly convinced of that fact, then there is nothing noble or tolerant or praiseworthy, or even remotely thoughtful or ethical, about standing by while those innocent human lives are extinguished.  Yet this is what passes for thoughtful piety on the Obama ticket.

Biden is saying: “I believe what the Catholic Church believes, that preborn children are sacred human lives — but I will simply stand by while anyone who wants to do so kills them.”  If he truly believes what the Catholic Church believes, then he has no right to do nothing in the face of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of abortions.  He has no right.  Either Biden does not really believe what he claims to believe, and he merely claims to believe it in order to draw as much of the Catholic vote as possible — or he is profoundly failing in his moral obligation to care for the children who are being aborted, because he finds it personally or politically convenient to raise no objection.

I don’t know which is worse.

Imagine that you went to a daycare to pick up a friend’s child.  The daycare worker, Daisy, has arranged ten boxes in the back yard and has placed explosives on top of each.  “There are no children inside,” Daisy says, “so it’s fine to blow up the boxes.”  But let’s say you have reason to suspect that one child has climbed into one of those boxes, but you don’t know which.

Daisy wants to go ahead and blow up one of the boxes.  Would you let her?  There’s only a ten percent chance that there’s a human child inside.  Would you say, “I don’t think she should — but I won’t impose my point of view on her?”

Let’s say you were firmly convinced that there were children in each of the ten boxes.  Would you refuse to impose your viewpoint on Daisy then?  Yet that’s what Uncle Joe is proposing here.  He accepts the Catholic Church’s position that these are living human persons — he believes there is a child in each box — but he refrains from interfering.  How noble!  How tolerant!  How politically convenient and morally incoherent.

Of course, I understand there is a mother to think about here.  But even if it proved to be a great hardship on Daisy, I wouldn’t hold my tongue while she went ahead and set off the explosives.  Would you?  Really put yourself in that situation.  Would you say nothing?  (The “boxes,” by the way, are not analogous to the mother — no one is proposing destroying the mother!  The boxes are the embryo/fetus, and the question is whether there is a living human child there.)  Even if you are not objectively certain that there is a child inside the box — even if you could not prove it to Daisy — you believe that something is objectively true.  There are children in the boxes.  If you truly believe that, then you must act to defend those children.

Biden also used the old canard that he would not tell a woman “what to do with her body,” as though the embryo/fetus is akin to a mole or an eleventh finger or unsightly facial hair.  If you believe what the Catholic Church believes, then it’s not her body.  It’s the body of a living human person.

People of sound mind and heart can disagree on whether life begins at conception.  People of sound mind and heart can disagree on whether we ought to “impose” an answer through votes and laws and regulations.  But people of sound mind and heart cannot believe simultaneously that life begins at conception and that they cannot impose their viewpoint.

At least, they cannot believe it coherently.  I’ll give Uncle Joe the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s not a liar or a moral coward but just remarkably incoherent on the matter.

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  • Doug

    You wrote: “If you believe, as the Catholic church does, that a sacred human life begins at conception, you simply cannot do nothing… [I]f you are truly convinced of that fact, then there is nothing noble or tolerant or praiseworthy, or even remotely thoughtful or ethical, about standing by while those innocent human lives are extinguished. Yet this is what passes for thoughtful piety on the Obama ticket.”

    Aren’t you painting yourself into a corner?

    Let me make an appeal to reality. In fact, people who believe this do effectively nothing about it all the time. They are in nearly the same position as Biden. If they believed in their heart of hearts that there was nothing equivocal here at all, that all abortion was murder, then they should be literally up in arms about it. They should be engaged in massive and wide-spread civil disobedience. Abortion clinic bombers might become folks heroes in the same way that John Brown became a folk hero for the abolitionist cause. But, in fact, pro-lifers are not literally up in arms about it. There is no massive civil disobedience campaign. And abortion clinic bombers are not folk heroes.

    This leaves us with two possible conclusions: either 1) most people who profess a non-equivocal anti-abortion position are hypocrites and would rather pay lip service to “thoughtful piety” than act in any effective way against the mass murder of tens of millions of children, or 2) despite their rhetoric, they sense that there is some uncertainty here, that maybe there really is a difference – at least in some cases – between abortion and outright murder.

    Personally, I think most pro-lifers fall into the second category (where they’ll find most pro-choicers too). At least that’s giving them the same benefit of the doubt that you offer Biden.

    • Ted Seeber

      Some of us ARE up in arms about it. But if you believe in protecting human life from “Conception until NATURAL DEATH”, you can’t be for the abortion clinic bombers either. You are left with praying the rosary outside of the clinic for 40 days, or paying for advertising, or marching for life as your ONLY options.

      You can’t commit murder to prove that murder is wrong. That’s why to the Catholic pro-lifer, the death penalty is almost as bad as abortion (the difference being that it takes guilty rather than innocent life) and war and torture are also equally as bad (even when they’re torturing murderers).

      ALL HUMAN LIFE includes abortionists.

      Why would you want it to be any different?

    • Raphael

      Doug, you make a very good point. We pro-lifers ARE guilty of inconsistency – and accomplice – if we stand by and do nothing while 1,200,000+ babies are aborted every year in this country. We MUST do everything in our power to stop abortion, euthanasia, etc. Bombing abortion centers, however, is not in our power. (It is also a great example of how two wrongs don’t make a right, and if we killed abortionists to stop abortion, we would also be guilty of inconsistency).

      Speaking out against the practice of abortion, and insisting that people shouldn’t do it, in a debate, however, IS fully within our power – and Biden and Ryan certainly had the opportunity to do it last night. Ryan DID speak out against abortion, and Biden DID NOT. Herein lies the hypocrisy, in Biden’s case. He can’t claim to be Catholic, and accept the Church’s teaching, and then refrain to “impose” that view. Why not? Because the Church COMMANDS him to “impose” that view! The teachings of the Church are very clear on abortion … either Biden must speak out – and vote – against abortion, or, if he wishes to defy the Church, he should at least admit that he does NOT accept the Church’s teaching. This means that he is a “cafeteria Catholic”, which is really a type of Protestant.

      Anyway, its just not logically consistent to believe something is absolutely true, but then refrain from encouraging others to believe the same. It’s like an German Jew in 1944 saying “My innocent fellow Jews should never be thrown into gas chambers, but I would never impose my views on the Fuhrer”. We Catholics – like all who wish to be logically consistent – are required (see CCC 905 and 2447, among others) to “impose” our views (really not our personal opinions, but rather, the teachings of Christ) on others … not with guns and bombs, but at least with words and votes.

      Here is another angle: if Biden truly does not wish to impose his views on others, then why is he in politics? Why is he in the executive branch of government? For over an hour, he tried to impose his views on healthcare, tax code, foreign policy, etc. But when is came to the life-or-death issue of abortion, he did not wish to impose that particular view. Why not? It’s a glaring inconsistency!

      Do most pro-lifers believe that abortion is not really murder? What is it then? Premeditated manslaughter? True pro-lifers definitely believe that abortion is the killing of an innocent human being … and that is murder. (Some may say that abortion is not murder because murder is illegal but abortion is illegal … fine then … abortion is killing that is legalized, but not justified. Besides, Roe vs. Wade says that abortion is not murder because the victim is not a human person, which pro-lifers disagree with.)

      In summary, you say “here is my view, here is my argument, here is the logic … you should accept my point of view”. I say “here is my view, here is my argument, here is the logic … you should accept my point of view”. Biden says “here is my view, here is my argument, here is the logic … but I would never impose my view on you”. We are both honest, bold and consistent, but Biden is not. He is either dishonest, cowardly, inconsistent, or some combination thereof.

    • Frank

      One big difference is that Biden is in a position of power. Most pro lifers are not. So what we are left to assume is that he could do something about it if he really did believe what he says and he won’t due to political fallout or he is not pro life but feels he has to say he is to keep up catholic appearances.

      Either way it exposes a severe lack of integrity that has no business being one man away from the presidency. Of course he would just laugh this truth away.

  • Lydia

    It is very simple the VP is devoid of morality. He, as well as most of those in the “D” party will say or do anything to be elected. Now, that party does not have a lock on that behavior, but thousand of innocent children a day are dying and he supports it. We have to vote for what is the lesser evil here. We have to vote to protect what are known as the “Non-negotiables”. A parental rights advocate and Homeschooling Mom of 7 made this viral video that shows some election issues (Life, Marriage & Religious Freedom) are Non-Negotiable and more important than others. It got over 2 million views in the Spring. Please pass it on!

  • Doug


    To return to Tim’s hypothetical, if you saw someone about to kill a child and your only choices were to let it happen or to kill the would-be murderer, wouldn’t you consider yourself morally obligated to act? I applaud your attempt at consistency, but most people are not such perfect pacifists that they could simply stand aside and feel fine about it.


    When you walk by the local abortion clinic and think to yourself, ‘Well, I’m not in a position of power. Responsibility for this lies on the shoulders of people like Joe Biden,” aren’t you just shirking? What exactly do you think Biden, as a person in power, could do? What did Reagan do? Bush I or Bush II? What do you expect Romney to do? The Supreme Court identified this as a constitutional issue forty years ago. Apart from employing a litmus test in the nomination of Supreme Court justices (a dicey business), there’s little an executive at the federal level can do for your cause other than offer lip service as a way of guaranteeing your vote.

    I don’t mean to bait you guys. My point here is simply that people need to tone down their rhetoric on abortion. No one thinks that getting an abortion is a great thing to do on a Friday night. And no one (let’s be honest) seriously considers abortion the moral equivalent of the Holocaust. People don’t just love getting abortions, and people aren’t out there blowing up clinics or cheering on bombers. Our collective actions (or inactions) should speak more loudly than our words. I just wish we as a country could have an adult conversation about this.

    • Frank

      Doug I did not mean to suggest that we are powerless. I believe we each have a responsibility to protect innocent life. My point was that Biden as VP has the potential to make change on a macro scale if he really believed what he says and has any integrity.

      There is no rhetoric in claiming that more than 6000 unborn children are killed mostly due to convenience each week. That is a fact, that is a truth.

      You speak about acting like adults. I am all for that. It’s not very adult like to support the killing of unborn children. It’s immature and selfish.

  • Matt

    I read the first few paragraphs and thought, This guy got the Fox News talking points on how to downplay Biden’s successful debate against the candidate the GOP was touting all month as the best debater in the party. So the maybe you make good points later on, but the lack of anything like objectivity makes me not care.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I don’t watch Fox News, and nobody gave me talking points. I was just sharing my opinion.

    • mnemos

      If you actually read the article, you’ll notice he’s not talking about entertainment value, but on logical consistency. Biden could be a successful blowhard or an underappreciated genius, but his remarks were not logically consistent. And no – I would not look toward Fox News for definitions of logical consistency – they aren’t up for that sort of discussion. Are you?

  • Rick Middleton

    He’s not incoherent, he’s just pro-choice, as in, SOMEONE has to make a choice here. If pro-lifers are honest with themselves, they need to simply state it: they want to make abortion illegal, either as a national thing, or at the state level.

    If they do it at the state level, let’s face it, some states will still have the procedure. Women who want an abortion will travel to those states to get it done.

    If the procedure is outlawed across the board, women (I suppose) will travel to Canada, or simply carry their babies to term, and wonder why this country’s leaders are so paternalistic. A few will probably do some soul-searching and decide yes, that baby is precious, I shouldn’t have toyed with the idea of killing it. Others will not soul-search in the way that pro-lifers are cocksure that they should, and instead they’ll just be angry. They’ll start tossing off phrases like Nanny State and Oppressive Government that, ironically, conservatives are already quick to toss off in self-righteous conversation.

    Right now, the procedure is legal. One either makes a choice to have an abortion, or one does not. Joe Biden says that he would rather Sally Jones make the choice for herself, rather than the state telling Sally Jones what is right and moral and permitted.

    You can demonize that all you want, but that says more about your inability to look at this situation calmly than it does about Joe Biden’s morals.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      You didn’t deal with the argument, Rick. IF you believe the unborn child is a living human person, as Biden says he does, well, it has a value equivalent to that of a one-year-old child (for instance). If you see a mother about to kill her one-year-old child, aren’t you morally obligated to intervene?

  • John Haas

    It is an incoherent position.

    For certain Catholic politicians (in particular), abortion has been negotiated as an extension or a piece of the Church’s teachings on contraception (and to be fair, the Church has usually lumped them together). At a certain point in the 1960s and ’70s, most Catholic politicians came to the Cuomo-Biden position: the Church may teach x, and that’s obligatory for Catholics, perhaps, but it’s not my job as a Catholic politician to make the Church’s teaching the law of the land.

    The problem here is that, at least from a Protestant perspective, contraception and abortion are not morally equivalent. They are very different things.

    But Mr. Dalrymple may wish to extend his diagnoses of current political incoherencies. Eg, if we believe that the “embryo/fetus [consists of] the body of a living human person” that has a right to life, should we be abridging that right in the case of those lives conceived as a result of incest or rape, as Mr. Dalrymple’s favored candidate, Mr. Romney, says we should? Does that pass the coherence test?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Thank you, John. I’m seeing so many commenters just giving their knee-jerk responses, it’s nice to see someone really looking at the issue rather than just defending their guy.

      What you raise is a tough, tough question, and I do wrestle with it. I’m going to hold off on commenting because I want to write a post about this. In the meantime, if any other commenters want to weigh in, please do. Is there any justification for making a LEGAL permission for abortion in the cases of rape and incest, even if you believe that all abortions take the life of a living human person?

  • Matilden

    I think selfish is forcing a kid into the world when his parents don’t want him. I’m a baptised catholic, i went to sunday school, went to church for more than 20 years. But i left coz i don’t believe life does start at conception and other reasons. It may have a heartbeat but there’s no guarantee that that ‘bean’ as ryan puts it will even get to full term and be born. That’s not life. There are people with heartbeats who are in a vegetative state. That’s not life. But i can accept that some ppl feel otherwise. Joe biden is right to say he doesn’t want to impose his religious beliefs like that one coz it’s very subjective. If someone is actually ok with having an abortion you can take it up with them. Joe biden is just acknowledging that things are not so straightforward. Also, i’m not even american, i live in an islamic country. How would i feel if those in office decided to ban pork and alcohol nationwide just cause of their religious belief? Of course one subject matter is more severe than the other but the concept stands.

  • matilden

    I thought God was all about free will…
    Abortion really is too subjective a matter to simply outlaw it, people would just go elsewhere to have it anyway.
    I think it’s pretty selfish to force a kid into this world when his parents don’t want him. And I don’t believe life starts at conception. It may have a heartbeat but there’s no guarantee that that ‘bean’ as Ryan puts it will even get to full term and be born. That’s not life. There are people with heartbeats in vegetative states. That’s not life either. I can understand outlawing it at the later stages of pregnancy but it really should be the parents’ decision.
    The more concerning matter is the death penalty. Those are actual people who may have committed some heinous crime(s) but I don’t think the length of their lives should be decided by some court.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I’m against the death penalty, as it happens, though it seems like my reasons are different from yours.

      God gives us free will, yes. But we should be discerning in crafting laws that protect the innocent and the vulnerable, right? Pro-lifers like myself believe that we are protecting innocent and vulnerable human lives.

      You say “Abortion really is too subjective a matter to simply outlaw it,” but of course I disagree. Genetically, we are talking about a human being. According to every scientific definition, it is alive. You might say that it hasn’t attained human personhood yet, and that there is something sacred about human personhood that goes beyond a living genetically-human organism — but then you have to get into some touchy metaphysics, and I’m not sure you’re willing to go there. Have you really thought this through?

      You also say “people would just go elsewhere.” Some would. But the evidence is very clear that when abortion procedures are less easily available, people are less likely to have abortions. If Arizonans had to go to California to get abortions, or if Americans had to go to Canada, the abortion rate would drop very substantially.

  • matilden

    Sorry if i double posted, thought the first one didn’t go through.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      No worries 😉

  • Steve Clements

    Thank you so much for walking through Mr. Biden’s shameful logic. You expressed my exact thoughts on this. Biden would have been much better off to obscure his belief of when life begins. But – as you’ve pointed out – to say that life begins at conception and then be supportive of abortions is unconscienable. Even a person who is pro-abortion should be astonished at this reasoning (although conversations with my liberal friends do not support this contention!)