WASHINGTON (AP) — Shortly after being elected to the U.S. Senate, Joe Biden was sidelined by a fellow Democrat who wanted to know how he was going to vote on abortion..
Biden explained that while he was personally opposed to abortion and would resist federal funding for the procedure, he did not want to impose his views on others by overturning Roe v. Wade, Supreme Court, 1973. decision that legalized abortion throughout the country.
“That’s a tough position, kid,” said Sen. Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut. Then Ribicoff offered him some advice, Biden recalled years later in a memoir: “Pick a side. You’ll be much better off politically. Just pick a side.
Over five decades in elected office, Biden has tried to avoid choosing a side on abortion whenever he could. Now that is impossible as the Supreme Court appears poised to topple the constitutional right to abortion. Politico published a draft majority opinion of the court earlier this week, with a final decision expected this summer.
As the Democratic president who is in office as the Republicans’ anti-abortion agenda reaches its crescendo, Biden is being drafted into the kind of fight he has eluded for much of his career.
It is not a natural role for him, despite his longstanding defense of a woman’s right to choose whether to terminate her pregnancy. Like many Catholic Democrats, he has expressed conflicting views on abortion, which his church considers a sin but his political party considers a legal right.
Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said that Biden “understands that there is a difference between his personal point of view and what he would do in his personal life, and what he and his party stand for in terms of protecting the freedoms of the American people. ”
Although Biden asked to protect Roe v. Wade in his State of the Union address in March, since he became president he had never publicly uttered the word “abortion” until this week, when the draft court decision was leaked. And he still prefers to frame the issue around privacy and the ability of people to make their own decisions without government interference.
“This is about so much more than abortion,” he said Wednesday at the White House. He often references other court decisions on same-sex marriage or birth control. “What are the next things that are going to be attacked?”
It’s the kind of rhetoric he successfully deployed during Robert Bork’s confirmation hearings in 1987.President Ronald Reagan’s nominee for the Supreme Court.
Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and focused his questioning on Griswold v. Connecticut, a 1965 decision that allowed married couples to purchase contraceptives.
“If we tried to make this a referendum on abortion rights, for example, we would lose,” she wrote in her 2007 memoir, “Promises to Keep.”
Biden’s handling of the issue was a stark contrast to colleagues like Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, who said in a speech that “Robert Bork’s America is a land where women would be forced to have abortions.” in an alleyway”.
“No one could have mistaken then-Sen. Biden with being a culture warrior,” said Jim Manley, a longtime Senate staffer who worked for Kennedy and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Bork’s nomination was defeated, preventing a shift to the right on the Supreme Court that could have jeopardized Roe v. Wade.
But suspicions remained about Biden’s support for abortion rights. Victoria Nourse, a lawyer who worked for Biden in the Senate, said mistrust became an obstacle when she worked on the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and increased protections against sexual assault and abuse. domestic.
“Women’s groups didn’t join because they thought he was weak on abortion,” she said.
The issue returned in 2019, when Biden was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Biden faced criticism for her support of the Hyde Amendment, which banned federal funding for abortions, and quickly changed course. in his long standing position.
Biden explained his change by saying “circumstances have changed” because Republican-led states were enacting new restrictions on abortion.
“I make no apologies for my last position,” he said. “I make no apologies for what I’m going to say.”
It was a change that reflected a broader shift in American politics. Michele Swers, a Georgetown government professor, said it used to be more common to find anti-abortion Democrats and Republicans who support abortion rights.
Biden became a US senator in January 1973, the same month the Roe v. Wade, and criticized the Supreme Court for going “too far.” When it comes to abortion, he told an interviewershe was “almost as liberal as your grandmother”.
However, activist groups at each end of the political spectrum have gained influence within parties, Swers said, creating a clearer partisan divide on the issue.
There is little room for politicians who have what Biden once described as “halfway” views.
“If you want to move up in national politics, it’s definitely more difficult,” Swers said. “I don’t think someone who took the positions that he used to take can run for president now.”
During the presidential campaign, Biden also promised to support legislation that would codify Roe v. Wade in law. However, there is little chance of it passing the Senate, despite a slim Democratic majority, leaving the White House with limited options to protect abortion rights.
Advocates and White House officials have spent months in talks about what steps could be taken if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
Some ideas being considered include highlighting the ability to get abortion pills through the mail, something the Food and Drug Administration recently approved.or find ways to help women travel for abortions in states with more permissive laws.
“We want to see more, of course,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood. “We want to see all the creative solutions in your arsenal right now, particularly at a time when we are in the greatest crisis.”