Biden and Abortion

Print More

Biden.jpgAs Joe Biden prepares for his self-introduction as Barack Obama’s ticket-mate, it’s a good time to think a little about what he brings to the table in re: the abortion issue, and how this may matter with respect to his Catholic co-religionists. The first thing to say is that, by Democratic Party standards, Biden is center-right on abortion. (Here’s an outline.) His NARAL rating is only 36 percent, the result of his opposition to public funding for abortions and his support of the ban on the “partial-birth” abortion procedure. He accepts as part of his faith his church’s teaching that life begins at conception, but strongly supports Roe v. Wade on the grounds that he doesn’t want to impose his religious views on those who do not share them. That is to say, he declines to go along with the Catholic Church’s position that, inasmuch as its position on abortion is derived from Natural Law rather than Revelation, it may be imposed by law on non-Catholics.
Naturally, this position is beyond the pale for Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, who sua sponte informed the AP by email that Biden ought not present himself for Holy Communion. But among rank-and-file Catholics, it’s a very common position. According to the American National Election Studies, 1980-2000, 42 percent of white Catholics are either completely pro-choice or believe that abortion should be permitted for reasons of rape, incest, or danger to the woman’s life, or if the need for it has been clearly established. The plurality position (38 percent) is to permit abortion only in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the woman’s life. Only 19 percent follow their church’s teaching that abortion should never be permitted. Latino Catholics are more pro-life than whites, but not by much.
So what does this mean? In a recent study of the political behavior of white Catholics–that crucial swing voting bloc–University of Cincinnati political scientist Stephen Mockabee performs the magic of multivariate factor analysis (in the 2007 volume, From Pews to Polling Places, edited by J. Matthew Wilson) and discovers that, in fact, abortion had no statistically significant effect on Catholic presidential vote choice in 2004. That’s right, none. How could this be? Well, one way to help understand it is that while older white Catholics are much more pro-life than younger ones, they are also far more loyal Democratic voters. “Post Vatican II” Catholics–those born after 1960–trend Republican but only seven percent share their Church’s position on abortion. When it came to issues, what pushed white Catholics toward George Bush was their support for capital punishment and their opposition to gay marriage, not John Kerry’s pro-choice position.
After PA Sen. Bob Casey, Jr.’s brief agree-to-disagree mention of his and Barack Obama’s differences over abortion last night, the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue thundered, “CASEY BLOWS IT BIG TIME.” But the sound and fury emanating from him and Chaput really, when it comes to the Catholic vote for president, signify nothing.