Story by Clement D.
With a new president in office, it is natural to ask what the implications will be for the pro-life movement. The easy answer would be to compare the Democratic platform with the Republican platform on abortion and draw the obvious conclusion that the new administration will be far more aggressive in providing legal access to abortion and will make it much harder for states to impose restrictions on abortion. This is all true, but as always, the devil is in the details. Lately, it has grown increasingly difficult to pass sweeping pro-life/pro-choice legislation on the national level. Most of the progress, or lack thereof, has been effected on the local level and through courts. So how exactly will the new administration push its pro-choice ideology?
Joe Biden himself has a long and complicated history with abortion. A Roman Catholic, Biden has at times indicated that he personally accepts the Church’s teaching on abortion, stating as recently as the last election cycle that he’s, “Prepared to accept … personally, the doctrine of my church” while adding, “but I’m not prepared to impose that on every other person.” Early on in his career, Biden sought to maintain a “middle of the road” position to reconcile his personal beliefs about abortion with his voting record. Most famously, throughout his entire political career, Biden supported the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funding for most abortions. However, the Democratic Party’s position on abortion has become more and more radical over time, and Biden has capitulated more and more to his party’s demands. In 2019, Biden reversed his longtime position on the Hyde Amendment and is currently being lobbied by reproductive rights groups to reverse the law. Biden, who once claimed that he believed Roe vs. Wade was wrongly decided, has since staunchly supported the ruling, even stating that if the Supreme Court were to overturn the ruling, he would push legislation to keep it legal. Despite Biden’s seeming inconsistency, his position has steadily become more liberal as his party has become more pro-choice. There is little reason to think that will change any time soon.
While sweeping national legislation is increasingly difficult to come by, there are a couple concrete ways in which Biden will advance the pro-choice agenda. He has already signed an executive order rescinding the Mexico City Policy, which blocks US federal funding for NGOs that provide abortion counseling or referrals, advocate to decriminalize abortion, or expand abortion services. The policy was introduced by the second Reagan administration and has since been rescinded by every Democratic administration and reinstated by every Republican administration.
In addition to executive mandates, there is good reason to believe that Biden will seek to reshape the judiciary to be more supportive of abortion. Perhaps Trump’s most significant contribution to the pro-life movement has been his appointment of judges with pro-life voting records. Trump’s most recent appointment of conservative Catholic Amy Coney Barrett to replace the pro-choice icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg incited some Democrats to consider packing the Supreme Court. Their chief concern, of course, has been that Barrett’s appointment might provide pro-life advocates with the opportunity to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Biden has been vague about his stance on court-packing, but he has not dismissed the possibility. Were he to pack the court, it would be a major and potentially fatal blow to the judicial pro-life movement. Biden will also have the opportunity to appoint judges to federal district courts and courts of appeals, which are also key for the advancement of pro-life legislation.
Many people claim that abortion rates actually decline more under democrat administrations than under republican administrations, implying that democrat policies are more beneficial to society and therefore result in a decreased demand for abortion. This has led some to argue that Biden’s feared impact on the pro-life movement is exaggerated or that pro-lifers should vote for Biden. However, the claim is not accurate. Since the 1980s, the abortion rate in the United States has decreased under every president. It’s true that the Clinton and Obama administrations saw greater decreases in abortion rates than several republican presidents, but this was not due to presidential actions. Rather, this was the result of increased republican presence in the legislature, and the passing of pro-life laws in Republican states.
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Of course there is room for disagreement about how to best protect life, but I would argue that we must be wary of overly-utilitarian thinking. Ultimately, our goal is not just to reduce the number of abortions, but also to change people’s attitudes towards the dignity of human life, especially the lives of the unborn. As long as an unborn child is viewed as sub-human or disposable, we have made little to no progress.
The next four years will not be easy for the pro-life movement, but hope is far from lost. And besides, we shouldn’t place our hopes in princes, and the responsibility for preserving and protecting the sanctity of life was never solely on the president’s shoulders in the first place. The advent of an openly pro-choice administration is a reminder that we have a lot of work to do. So get ready!