The Biden Platform: What Catholics should know

shutterstock 1362500375 Joe Biden at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. | mark reinstein/Shutterstock

Joe Biden was officially nominated as the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential candidate on Tuesday evening. With the formalities over, what are the policies he will be running on?

The 2020 DNC platform draft says that religious freedom is a "fundamental human right" that nevertheless cannot be used "as a cover for discrimination."

Democrats in Congress have promoted legislation, the "Do No Harm Act," as a means of curtailing expressions of religious freedom which they claim are discriminatory.

The proposed legislation would limit the application of current religious freedom protections-the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)-in cases such as objections to the contraceptive mandate, health care workers declining to participate in abortions, and religious adoption agencies placing children only with married opposite-sex couples.

The draft 2020 platform also supports reinstating policies such as the Obama administration's transgender mandate. It condemns the Trump administration's "dangerous and unethical regulation allowing doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies to discriminate against patients based on their sexual orientation or gender identity."

A federal judge on Monday ordered a halt to implementation of the Trump administration's rule that protected doctors with a conscientious objection to providing gender-transition surgery or abortion.

The DNC platform also calls for the U.S. to appoint "senior leaders" to drive LGBTQ advocacy in foreign policy; the Obama administration appointed the first Special Envoy for LGBTQ issues at the State Department, but the position is not yet required by law to be filled by each administration and has not been filled during Trump's presidency.

The current 2020 DNC platform also supports the HHS contraceptive mandate, which business owners and religious non-profits have fought in court over its requirement that employers cover contraceptives in employee health plans.

While the Trump administration granted religious and moral exemptions to the mandate, including for the Little Sisters of the Poor, states challenged the exemptions in court. In July, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the exemptions for the sisters and others.

However, Biden-who in an Aug. 9 campaign video credited the "generosity" of Catholic nuns with inspiring him in his run for president-has said that he would undo the religious and moral exemptions to the mandate, potentially opening the Little Sisters of the Poor up to further litigation for opposing the mandate.

In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision, Biden said he would restore the Obama administration's "accommodation" for objecting non-profits, which the sisters had challenged in court by saying it did not sufficiently protect their rights of conscience.

Under that "accommodation," objecting non-profits would notify the government of their objection, which in turn would instruct their insurer or third-party plan administrator to ensure the provision of contraceptive coverage. The sisters said that by notifying the government of their objection, they were still essentially giving a "permission slip" for the provision of morally-objectionable coverage in their health plan.

The platform does include a commitment to oppose capital punishment, and pledges the party to "continue to support abolishing the death penalty."

The DNC draft platform also opposes private school vouchers as part of "policies that divert taxpayer-funded resources away from the public school system." In some states, like Wisconsin, Catholic schools have been some of the beneficiaries of the state's expansion of private school vouchers.

On marriage, Biden supported the Defense of Marriage Act in the 1990s, but in 2012 said he was "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex marriage; his comments as vice president in an election year prodded President Obama to announce his support for same-sex marriage days later. As Vice President, Biden himself officiated at a same-sex wedding ceremony for two White House staffers in 2016.

Regarding abortion, the 2020 DNC platform builds upon the 2016 platform that one former Obama campaign staffer characterized was "extreme." In 2016, Michael Wear, director of faith outreach for Obama's 2012 presidential campaign, told CNA that the party's abortion stance was "morally reprehensible."

A group of Democratic public officials at the federal, state, and local levels wrote to the members of the platform committee on August 14, saying the support for late-term abortion will "push many voters into the arms of the Republican Party," as many pro-lifers "are single-issue voters."

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The platform declares that "every woman" should have access to "safe and legal abortion" and that abortion, as part of comprehensive health care, is "vital to the empowerment of women and girls."

It calls for a restoration of federal funding of Planned Parenthood, and taxpayer-funded abortion through repeal of the Hyde and Helms Amendments as well as the Mexico City Policy.

Biden's own record of abortion advocacy as a six-term U.S. senator and vice president is well-known. He has taken a variety of positions on the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and on taxpayer-funded abortion over the years, but as the party's nominee he supports the codification of Roe and the repeal of protections against taxpayer-funded abortion, in line with the party's 2020 draft platform.

Biden announced in June of 2019 that he would support the repeal of the Hyde Amendment; when challenged over his previous votes for Hyde by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Biden said at a debate in March that "if we're going to have public funding for all healthcare along the line, there is no way you could allow for there to be a requirement that you have Hyde Amendment."

At that debate, Biden promised, if elected president, to "send immediately to the desk of the United States Congress (...), a codification of Roe v Wade amended by Casey." The Supreme Court's Roe decision in 1973 allowed for legal abortion except in cases of the viability of the baby, and the 1992 Casey decision established an updated legal framework for determining the constitutionality of state abortion regulations.

During his time in the Senate, Biden has taken a variety of positions on abortion, including voting for legislation that included the Hyde Amendment.

He said in 1974 that the Roe decision "went too far," and in 1981 supported a constitutional amendment to allow states to overturn Roe; in the next year, however, he voted against such an amendment.

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In a 2008 interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," Biden said Roe is "as close to a consensus that can exist in a society as heterogeneous as ours." His 2020 campaign platform calls for the codification of Roe v. Wade as federal law, and would ensure, as part of a health care "public option," coverage of "a woman's constitutional right to choose."

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