CNA Staff, Jan 22, 2021 / 17:40 pm
President Joe Biden's statement backing legal abortion on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade drew swift reaction from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose pro-life chairman said the no president of the United States should ever defend denying the right to life of unborn children.
"We strongly urge the president to reject abortion and promote life-affirming aid to women and communities in need," the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities head Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas said Jan. 22.
"It is deeply disturbing and tragic that any president would praise and commit to codifying a Supreme Court ruling that denies unborn children their most basic human and civil right, the right to life under the euphemistic disguise of a health service," he said.
The U.S. bishops' conference responded to the statement from President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which mandated permissive abortion laws nationwide.
The president and vice president stressed their commitment to legal abortion, saying "The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to codifying Roe v. Wade and appointing judges that respect foundational precedents like Roe."
Although Roe v. Wade was a critical pro-abortion rights decision, the statement did not mention abortion by name, preferring to use euphemisms such as "reproductive health" and "health care."
"In the past four years, reproductive health, including the right to choose, has been under relentless and extreme attack," they said. "As the Biden-Harris Administration begins in this critical moment, now is the time to rededicate ourselves to ensuring that all individuals have access to the health care they need."
The U.S. bishops' conference said the statement wrongly characterized the Roe v. Wade decision as "an advancement of women's rights and health." While the Biden-Harris statement did not mention religion, the bishops said Catholics cannot support abortion.
Biden has repeatedly emphasized his Catholicism, attending Mass the morning of his inauguration and citing St. Augustine of Hippo in his inaugural address. He has put a Pope Francis picture in the Oval Office.
Even on Biden's first day in office, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited Biden's Catholicism when asked questions about abortion.
At a Jan. 20 press briefing, Owen Jensen of EWTN News asked Psaki what Biden plans to do regarding the Hyde Amendment and the Mexico City Policy, which Biden has opposed because they limit abortion funding.
"Well, I think we'll have more to say on the Mexico City Policy in the coming days," Psaki said.
"But I will just take the opportunity to remind all of you that he (Biden) is a devout Catholic, and somebody who attends church regularly," she told reporters. "He started his day with attending his church this morning."
In the bishops' conference statement, however, Archbishop Naumann emphasized Church teaching on abortion.
"I take this opportunity to remind all Catholics that the Catechism states, 'Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable'," he said.
The statement also emphasized politicians' responsibilities to reject a right to abortion.
"Public officials are responsible for not only their personal beliefs, but also the effects of their public actions. Roe's elevation of abortion to the status of a protected right and its elimination of state restrictions paved the way for the violent deaths of more than 62 million innocent unborn children and for countless women who experience the heartache of loss, abandonment, and violence," said Naumann.
The president of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Fr. Dave Pivonka, also reacted to the Biden-Harris declaration, saying their "aggressive pro-abortion statement … is saddening to Catholics worldwide. The policies they have promised to put forward are harmful to the dignity of the human person and are contrary to the teachings of the Church."
Pope Francis has often rejected abortion as part of a "throwaway culture," but some American pro-abortion rights advocates and politicians, and their supporters, have tried to claim the Pope has taken a non-confrontational approach at variance with most U.S. bishops.
On the day of Biden's inauguration, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, in his role as president of the U.S. bishops' conference, said he was praying for Biden. He noted areas of agreement and disagreement between the bishops and Biden.
"Catholic bishops are not partisan players in our nation's politics," Gomez said in a statement. "We are pastors responsible for the souls of millions of Americans and we are advocates for the needs of all our neighbors."
"For the nation's bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the 'preeminent priority'," he said, adding that "preeminent does not mean 'only'," and there are a wide variety of challenges and threats to human dignity facing the country today," he said.
The U.S. bishops will engage with Biden with the aim of starting "a dialogue to address the complicated cultural and economic factors that are driving abortion and discouraging families," Archbishop Gomez said.