Senator Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for Vice President, is a Catholic who openly defends his faith, but who supports Roe v. Wade and legalized abortion. At the Democratic National Convention, Democratic delegates of all stripes—pro-life, pro-legalized abortion, Catholic, and non-Catholic—appear to be happy with Obama’s choice of running mate.
All of the approximately 25 delegates and alternates interviewed by Catholic News Agency expressed support—sometimes enthusiasm—about Biden as a running mate. His faith, and his abortion stance seemed to play almost no role in their views of him.
But Biden is not shy about his faith. In an April 2006 episode of the HBO talk show Real Time, Bill Maher was assailing political figures for being too overtly religious, when Biden interrupted to relate a conversation he once had with a Democratic colleague. Biden told this fellow senator that his mother dedicates a rosary every Sunday to her deceased brother. “And he looked at me and said, ‘I think that’s quaint.’ And I said, ‘…were we not senators, I’d rip your goddamn Adam’s apple out, because who the hell are you to look at my mother and say it’s “quaint”?’ We have too many elites in our party who look down their nose on people of faith.”
Biden on another occasion showed willingness to use violence in defense of his faith. In 2005, the Cincinnati Enquirer quoted him as saying, “The next Republican that tells me I’m not religious, I’m going to shove my rosary beads down their throat.”
And in this race, Biden is already playing up his Catholic identity. On the eve of the Convention, the major television networks carried footage of his coming out of Sunday Mass back home in Delaware and speaking with his priest.
Biden is outspokenly pro-choice, with a record of fighting to save Roe v. Wade. On the other hand, he consistently votes to outlaw partial-birth abortion on the federal level. Choosing a pro-choice Catholic could help or hurt Obama among Catholic voters.
Joshua Mercer, spokesman for Fidelis, a pro-life Catholic political action committee and advocacy group, argued that, “It will ultimately hurt Obama to have a Catholic pro-abortion running mate, because the issue will come up again.”
The battle for the Supreme Court, the crux of the policy struggle over abortion, is where Biden has most pleased the defenders of legalized abortion, and it is one reason activist groups support him.
Biden, as a member and former chairman of the Judiciary Committee has been at the heart of this battle, and consistently has fought against judges who might overturn Roe v. Wade, a decision he has supported with public statements and a “sense of the Senate” resolution.
NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan noted her appreciation in a statement, released after Biden was named: “Sen. Biden has a strong record of opposing judicial nominees with hostile anti-choice records. He voted against George W. Bush’s two anti-choice nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, and he opposed anti-choice Justice Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the Court as well as multiple anti-choice nominees to lower federal courts.” Additionally, he was at the forefront of the liberal defeat of Judge Robert Bork, nominated to the Supreme Court in 1987.
Four years ago, at the Democratic convention in Boston, delegates heavily placed judges as a top reason for supporting John Kerry, understanding that it is the Supreme Court, not elected legislators, keeping abortion legal for nine months of pregnancy.
In interviews Monday with arriving delegates, Biden’s faith and his abortion views had little impact.
John Hadley, Jr. is a Catholic from Pelousas, Louisiana, who sends his children to Catholic school. Hadley describes himself as “100 percent pro-life” and acknowledges that Biden and Obama are not. Still, he supports the Democratic ticket without hesitation and was cheered by Obama’s choosing a Catholic running mate. Noting that the last Catholic in the White House was Kennedy, Hadley said, “It’s about time” Americans put another Catholic there.
When asked about Biden’s being a Catholic who supports legalized abortion, Hadley responded, “As a Catholic, that’s a decision that Biden and God are going to have to work out at the Pearly Gates.” While stating Biden should talk to his pastor about his positions on abortion, Hadley said it didn’t affect his support for Biden.
Larry Veselka a delegate from Houston, Texas who supports legalized abortion, disagrees with Biden’s support of a ban on partial-birth abortion, but that disagreement doesn’t bother him. “Biden starts from the belief that a woman has a right to choose, and that’s what matters.”
Timothy P. Carney is the editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report and a columnist for the Washington Examiner.