If you reach way back in the annals of congressional history, you’ll find that former Vice President Joe Biden — now a Democratic candidate for president in 2020 — was once a pro-life member of Congress.
I was reminded Thursday of Biden’s once-conservative voting record on the issue of abortion by writer and pastor Ed Stetzer, who lamented the bygone era.
Forty-four years ago, in 1974, when Biden first started his career in the U.S. Senate, the Delaware Democrat described himself in an interview with The Washingtonian as “really quite conservative” on practically every issue outside civil rights and liberties. He went on to say his wife, Jill, told him he was “the most socially conservative man” she had ever met.
The now-76-year-old Biden was even opposed to abortion. He told the political magazine, “When it comes to issues like abortion … I’m about as liberal as your grandmother.”
Just a little more than year earlier, in January 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Roe v. Wade that prohibitions on abortion were unconstitutional. At the time, Biden said, “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion,” arguing it “went too far” because he didn’t believe “that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.”
Biden, who is a practicing Catholic, stuck to his pro-life convictions for a number of years.
In 1976, he voted in favor of the Hyde Amendment, which forbade government-funded insurance programs from paying for abortions. A few years later, in 1981, the then-senator proposed what became known as the “Biden Amendment,” a measure that would have blocked foreign aid from being used in any biomedical research related to abortion. On several occasions, Biden voted in favor of a proposal from the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) to permanently restrict federal funding from being used for abortions and training or research related to abortions.
It’s also worth noting the three-time presidential hopeful, when he was on the Senate Judiciary Committee, voted to advance the Hatch Amendment, which declared the U.S. Constitution “does not secure a right to abortion” and would have given state and federal legislators the right to decide the question of abortion. Biden was, at the time, one of the only two Democrats to vote in favor of the measure.
Biden was also in favor of then-President Ronald Reagan’s so-called “Mexico City policy,” which stopped federal dollars from going to foreign non-governmental organizations — including the International Planned Parenthood Foundation — that performed or promoted abortions. President Donald Trump has reinstated and expanded the Reagan-era rule.
In a 1986 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Jeannie Rosoff, who was then an official with Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, griped Biden “usually votes against us,” adding it was “difficult to know whether this issue is purely personal, purely political, or a combination of both with him.”
As recently as the 1990s, Biden was voting for pro-life legislation. In 1995, he voted in favor of a ban on partial-birth abortions and continued doing so until it was signed into law by then-President George W. Bush in 2003. Then, when the Supreme Court upheld the controversial ban in 2007, Biden was the only Democratic presidential candidate not to publicly oppose the high court’s decision. Instead, he defended his vote to ban partial-birth abortions, saying, “I think it’s an extraordinary circumstance. I make no apologies for it.”
When he was running for president in 2008, he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that, as a Christian, the issue of abortion “is the biggest dilemma for me in terms of comporting my religious and cultural views with my political responsibility.”
He also said, “I was 29 years old when I came to the U.S. Senate, and I have learned a lot.”
It’s still somewhat unclear exactly where Biden stands on the issue of abortion. But what’s not unclear is that his nuanced approach to the issue is going to cause him problems with those in his own Democratic Party.
Ilyse Hogue, president of the pro-abortion NARAL, told The New York Times that Biden “is trying to carve out a space for himself as the middle, moderate candidate, and he’s going to have to really get with the times and understand that standing with abortion rights is the middle, moderate position.”
Speaking to the Times, Biden’s spokesman, Bill Russo, “declined to detail Mr. Biden’s current views on specific policies he once supported, including banning all federal funding for abortion services and research.”
Regardless, facing pressure over the years, Biden in 2007 did kowtow to the increasingly progressive left. He wrote in his biography, “Promises to Keep,” that he “will not vote to curtail a woman’s right to choose abortion. But I will also not vote to use federal funds to fund abortion.”
I’m sure he will face a mountain of questions from his fellow Democratic presidential candidates as his party races further and further left at lightening speed.