Shortly after he was elected to the US Senate, a Democratic colleague of Joe Biden 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 of the 1973 Supreme Court, the decision that legalized abortion throughout the country.
“That’s a tough position,” said Sen. Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut. Years later, in his biography, Biden recalled that Ribicoff advised him: “Pick a side. You’ll be much better off politically. Just pick a side.”
After five decades in elected office, Biden has avoided choosing a side on abortion whenever he could. Now that is impossible as the Supreme Court appears poised to strike down the constitutional right to abortion. Earlier in the week, the news site Politico published a draft majority opinion of the court on Roe v. Wade and a final decision is expected this summer.
As the Democratic president in office while the Republicans’ anti-abortion agenda reaches its crescendo, Biden will face the kind of battle 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 to terminate a pregnancy. Like many Catholic Democrats, he has expressed conflicting views on the issue, which his church considers a sin but his political party considers a legal right.
Although Biden asked to protect Roe v. Wade in his annual report in March, since he became president he had never publicly uttered the word “abortion” until this week, when the court bill 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. “What are the next things that are going to be attacked?” she pointed out.
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