Sen. Joseph Biden, the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential nominee, explained his stand on abortion in a Sunday appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press and responded to several U.S. bishops’ critiques of Nancy Pelosi’s justification for her pro-abortion rights position. Characterizing the belief that life begins at conception as a “religiously based view,” Biden said he cannot “impose” that belief upon people who do not share it.
Biden also claimed that there is a “debate” in the Church over when life begins.
Tom Brokaw, host of Meet the Press, prefaced his question to Biden by noting Rev. Rick Warren’s question to Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama at the Saddleback Church candidates’ forum in August. Brokaw reported the question as “When does life begin?”
In fact, Rev. Warren had asked “At what point does a baby get human rights?”
Sen. Obama had replied to Warren by saying that determining when life begins is “above my pay grade.”
On Sunday’s broadcast of Meet the Press, Brokaw explained that on a previous show he had asked Rep. Pelosi, who like Sen. Biden is a Catholic, what advice she would give to Obama about when life began. Pelosi answered that abortion is an area in which she is not in agreement with the Catholic Church and claimed St. Augustine’s view concerning when the soul enters the body supports her opinion.
Many bishops and archbishops criticized Pelosi’s August 24 televised comments, which she further supported in a statement from her office. According to the Associated Press, Rep. Pelosi has since accepted the invitation of the Archbishop of San Francisco George Niederauer to converse with him about abortion and the Catholic faith.
Speaking to Sen. Biden on Meet the Press yesterday, Brokaw cited the comments of Edward Cardinal Egan, the Archbishop of New York.
Concerning Pelosi’s remarks, the cardinal said about those killed in an abortion: “Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being `chooses' to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.”
“Those are very strong words. If Senator Obama comes to you and says, ‘When does life begin? Help me out here, Joe,’ as a Roman Catholic, what would you say to him?”
Biden replied that he would say “Look, I know when it begins for me," but then called the question a “personal and private issue.”
While professing that he is “prepared to accept the teachings of my church,” he said there are many non-Catholics who have a different view.
“They believe in God as strongly as I do. They're intensely as religious as I am religious,” Biden said.
“I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception,” he continued. “But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society.”
When Brokaw asserted that Biden had voted for abortion rights, Biden then objected that he had instead voted “against curtailing the right” and against “criminalizing abortion.”
“I voted against telling everyone else in the country that they have to accept my religiously based view that it's a moment of conception,” Biden insisted.
“There is a debate in our church, as Cardinal Egan would acknowledge, that's existed. Back in "Summa Theologia [sic]," when Thomas Aquinas wrote "Summa Theologia [sic]," he said there was no--it didn't occur until quickening, 40 days after conception.”
“How am I going out and tell you, if you or anyone else that you must insist upon my view that is based on a matter of faith?” he said, according to a September 7 transcript of Meet the Press.
“This is a matter between a person's God, however they believe in God, their doctor and themselves,” Biden claimed, endorsing the reduction of the abortion rate through “providing the care, the assistance and the encouragement for people to be able to carry to term and to raise their children.”
Bishop of Madison Robert C. Morlino and Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput have both reacted to Biden’s, criticizing him for “flawed moral reasoning” and confusing the differences between faith and natural law—that is, the rational and non-sectarian study of human life and ethics.