There are two ways to address this question on behalf of a Democratic president, even one that has on occasion professed to being “personally” pro-life. The honest answer: Somewhere between the eleventy-sixth of February and the twelfth of never. Spin: “The President will reach out to all Americans.” Guess which one Jen Psaki chose?
Oh, let’s not always see the same hands (via Katie Pavlich):
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) February 3, 2021
“President Biden has stated he wants to unite the country, in the first two weeks he’s been in office however and much to the disappointment of pro-life Americans he has revoked the Mexico City policy, he has ordered a review of Title X and issued a statement strongly supporting Roe v. Wade. Is the President going to make any effort to reach out to pro-life Americans?” a reporter asked.
“Well, those have long been the President’s positions and he certainly was just restating them and delivering on promises he made on the campaign trail but the President will reach out to all Americans and that is how he is going to govern, what he talked about in his inaugural address, he has every intention of delivering on that promise,” Psaki responded.
I don’t recognize the reporter, but whoever it was had to know the answer even before he asked it. Biden insists on positioning himself as a devout Catholic for political purposes in order to underscore his claim as a moderate, but Biden has long ago parted ways with Catholic teaching on this point. Before becoming Barack Obama’s VP, Biden used to use the “personally against but won’t oppose it in public policy” position, which was usually enough to keep him in good enough standing with the church establishment. During the Obama years, Biden began dispensing even with that dodge, professing support for abortion rights without reservation. And in the 2019 primary mix, Biden changed positions so often on abortion that he was almost simultaneously in favor of the Hyde Amendment and calling for federal subsidies for abortions.
All of the need for dancing around the subject has ended with his election to office. Not only does Biden not need pro-life voters, he could endanger his position with progressives in a narrowly divided Congress by engaging pro-lifers at all. Biden’s holding hands with the same progressives who think being opposed to abortion is an explicitly bigoted position. What’s the upside in meeting with pro-life activists, except possibly to mollify the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for a short period of time?
Catholic commentator Mary Eberstadt argued before the inauguration that Biden has a duty to engage on abortion, both as president and a Catholic. That and five bucks will get you a latté, as Biden ignored her invitation to speak to the March for Life to demonstrate some unity:
I am writing to ask that you put that promise of unity into action with a gesture that could reassure one group of people you singled out: Americans who did not vote for you. Mr. President, you have a splendid opportunity to transcend partisanship, exactly as you promised at the inauguration. You can do what no Democratic president has done before you: share a message of solidarity with the March for Life on January 29.
That might strike you as a bold ask. On the one hand, you have reminded the nation throughout your public life that you are a man of faith—specifically, the faith of the Catholic Church. You have said you personally oppose abortion. On the other hand, you have emphasized that your personal opposition does not translate into policy. This demurral has grown increasingly forceful over time. During your presidential campaign, you disavowed your longstanding support for the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits using federal funds to pay for abortions.
So be it, at least for now. You are not being asked to budge one iota from your political pledges. You are being asked, instead, to make good on a different commitment—the moral commitment to civility and good faith you made in your address. There is no need to talk politics in your message to the March. Just affirm in public that pro-lifers are decent people who act from honorable convictions—the same convictions you claim as a private citizen.
The National Catholic Register followed up with Eberstadt in an interview published today. Eberstadt called on Catholics and pro-lifers to call out the “cognitive dissonance” behind Biden’s spin, which is a polite way of saying dishonesty:
It is time for a closer look at the president’s excuse for this cognitive dissonance — the so-called “personally opposed” stance toward abortion. This is not only Joe Biden’s position, but also Nancy Pelosi’s, and that of others in public life. In 1984, Mario Cuomo tried to articulate this moral solecism in a speech at Notre Dame. In every case since then, “personally opposed” has been interpreted the same way: to mean that such figures will not lift a finger in public to protect life. The emphasis has been on the “personal.”
But that is only one way of viewing the formulation. The other is to focus on the “opposed” part — and to call on people in public life to act on it. That’s what I was doing in the Newsweek piece. Even Mario Cuomo emphasized that he believed in the sanctity of life and that he thought everyone else should, too — Catholic or not.
It’s past time to ask Catholic leaders marching in Cuomo’s ideological shoes to prove that they mean what they say about opposition. If politicians are indeed “personally” pro-life, then they should stand with the pro-lifers in solidarity, whatever their political differences. They should make a point of doing other things pro-lifers do: supporting emergency pregnancy centers, making Catholic adoption easier, fighting secularist efforts to increase euthanasia.
Instead, the policies of the “personally opposed” work against every one of these vital charitable undertakings — and others. Fellow Catholics can’t stand idly by in the face of such traducing. This isn’t about forgoing meat on Fridays. It’s about whether the Church stands for anything at all.
If Joe Biden did meet with pro-life leaders, this might be what they’d tell him … which is why Biden won’t bother in the first place. There isn’t any cognitive dissonance in play here, at least not in Biden’s mind. He’s operating out of sheer political expediency, and for that matter so was Mario Cuomo. Biden’s interest in unity ends at the borders of that political expediency. And everyone who’s ever followed Biden for any length of time knows that.