How Good Is Joe Biden’s View on Abortion?

In my previous article I analyzed President Trump’s view on abortion, a hot-button issue in American politics.

It’s only fair to continue with his prospective rival in the upcoming presidential election.

Abortion has been a tricky policy issue for Joe Biden. As a practicing Catholic, it always pinned his personal and political beliefs against each other in a seemingly unsolvable conundrum. His response relied heavily on the separation of church and state. Too bad the church saw it differently when it denied the former VP Holy Communion for his political stance on abortion.

Reflecting the issue’s importance, Joe Biden has mentioned abortion reasonably often during his nearly 50-year-long political career. I will use all the sources I could find to critically assess his view.

What I won’t use is his voting record. We may assume that every time Biden voted on any policy, he made an informed decision. Alas, that will always remain an assumption. Representatives vote on hundreds of issues in each cycle and often use party lines as a proxy. Thus, in cases where Joe Biden publicly explained the rationale behind his choice, I will happily use that rationale to evaluate his view. But where there is no reasoning, there will be no score.

Let’s start our assessment of the former VP’s abortion view with the three big-picture components.

(For a description of my scoring system, please see the ‘How to judge policy view quality’ section of the previous article).

Unlike his Republican rival, Joe Biden has revealed some of his thinking regarding an abortion-specific ideal: “I think it’s always a tragedy and I think it should be rare and safe. And I think we should be focusing on how to limit the number of abortions.”

As the latter part of this statement signals, he is cognizant of some alternatives to abortion. Accordingly, he has committed to repealing President Trump’s gag rule on Title X and upholding the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that insurers cover birth control.

Based on this evidence, together with the absence of other explicit details, Joe Biden’s ideal gets 1 point.

I also saw no indication of how high priority he thinks abortion should be when compared to other policy issues.

His decision making process, on the other hand, dominated recent discussion revolving around the former VP’s abortion view.

Joe Biden in the wake of his changed stance on the Hyde Amendment. Source:

On June 6, 2019, Joe Biden changed his long-standing position on the Hyde Amendment, which is

a 43-year-old law that prohibits taxpayer-supported health care programs from utilizing federal funds for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save a woman’s life.

The very fact of changing his mind, coupled with the arguments he provided for doing so, signals awareness of his own process. He also mentioned several details including a conflict between his religious and political views.

Still, Biden’s relevant disclosure is limited to one part of the abortion debate and does not contain any reference to particular biases. Thus, it will only net him 1 point.

Which brings his total big-picture score to 2 out of 8.

Let’s assess the rest of his view by measuring it against the information contained in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Simplified Saturated Policy View for Abortion — Circled numbers represent pieces of knowledge.

Joe Biden is clearly aware of some of abortion’s impact on the mother: “How do you say to now the women who are in poverty that increasingly have no access to women’s health care”? He is also cognizant of women’s right to privacy, along with the fact that Roe v. Wade rests upon this very right.

In addition to the mother, Biden has demonstrated some awareness of the fetus as well, as evidenced by his acceptance of the Catholic Church’s position that life begins at conception. Furthermore, his outspoken support of Planned Parenthood suggests at least some recognition of professional interests. In total, 3 points seems fair.

As I hinted above, one solution clearly dominates public discourse related to Joe Biden’s abortion view: funding. He attributed his change of heart regarding the Hyde Amendment to increasingly limited access to abortions as opposed to

when there were reasonable alternatives and funding mechanisms that did not deny women the opportunity to take advantage of their constitutional rights under Roe v. Wade, as amended by Casey, that in fact it was O.K. to not make other people who had strong views different than that pay for it.

In the same interview, Biden mentioned other mechanisms related to abortion funding such as universal health care, private contributions, and organizations like Planned Parenthood. For his detailed view on this part of the issue, he gets 1 point, plus another point for relevant (simple) knowledge.

Joe Biden has come under heavy fire from the other side of the isle for his alleged view on one particular circumstance, gestation period. His opponents’ claim is simple: the former VP supports abortion up until birth.

While he hasn’t weighed in as a presidential candidate, Biden did attach an explanation to his choice of supporting the exact opposite, a ban on partial-birth abortions, back in 2007. He is clearly aware that how late we are in the pregnancy makes a big difference in the abortion debate. For that, he gets 1 point.

And there we have it: Joe Biden’s final score is 8 points out of 70.

It is undeniable that the the former VP has given abortion significant thought. He has also displayed a sophisticated understanding of some parts of the conversation, especially funding. At the same time, he has not demonstrated virtually any awareness of the knowledge available; has failed to mention the impact on many stakeholders; and has not explicitly covered most solutions or circumstances.

What might explain this?

Just like the sitting President, Joe Biden is not a policy expert. He is a politician. His main goal is to gain power, for which he needs votes.

And let’s be honest here: the vast majority of the voting public is not interested in boring speeches full of specific elements of a highly complex and sophisticated policy view.

Consequently, Joe Biden is hardly responsible for his underdeveloped view on abortion. We are.

In fact, considering his experience, voting record, and the importance of this issue; it’s highly possible that Biden has a much more developed view on abortion but has simply not been pushed to fully explain it in detail.

Politicians, just like companies, will ultimately give people what they want. The moment highly sophisticated opinions on policy issues will get them elected, they will shift how they speak and think.

Personally, I believe that this shift would be a great development. If you disagree, I’d love to hear your arguments. If you agree, let’s start getting there by holding politicians on both sides of the isle accountable for the quality of their policy views.

A political scientist (Ph.D.) and social psychologist (MA) fighting for a better world the only way I know how: on the battlefield of idea(l)s.

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