President Biden’s characterization of abortion as a “constitutional right” is a far cry from past presidents’ treatment of the abortion issue.Biden Forcefully Backs Abortion in State of the Union Address| National Catholic Register
President Joe Biden, a baptized Catholic who has said throughout much of his career that he is personally pro-life, gave the strongest backing of abortion in a State of the Union address in recent memory. His remarks Tuesday evening stand in contrast to the denunciations of abortion from past presidents in their State of the Union addresses, and even to the more measured remarks of former President Barack Obama on the issue.
President Biden characterized abortion access as necessary for the country and a “constitutional right.” He said “advancing liberty and justice also requires protecting the rights of women. The constitutional right affirmed in Roe v. Wade — standing precedent for half a century — is under attack as never before. If we want to go forward — not backward — we must protect access to health care. Preserve a woman’s right to choose.”
Biden’s forceful backing of abortion in his State of the Union address is likely due to alarm from abortion advocates at the possibility that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case, in which the justices are reexamining the viability standard in the case of Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban.
His words on abortion last night were quite a departure from his comment in 1973 that the Supreme Court had gone “too far” in the Roe v. Wade decision. He backed a partial-birth abortion ban in 1997 and then in 2003. In a Senate floor speech in 1997, he said he “was and still am concerned that in banning only partial-birth abortions, we do not go far enough.” Over the course of his career, Biden has become increasingly pro-abortion. He embraced taxpayer-funded abortion on the 2020 campaign trail and in September he stated that he does not believe human life begins at conception, a major reversal from past comments that he accepted “on faith” that life begins at conception.
In addition to being a departure from his own past treatment of the issue, his State of the Union comments on abortion are more aggressively pro-abortion than the comments of President Barack Obama, under whom he served as vice president. In 2015, then-President Obama sought out some unity on the issue, saying in his State of the Union address that “we still may not agree on a woman’s right to choose, but surely we can agree it’s a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care that she needs.”
Back in 1985, a year in which then-Sen. Biden might have agreed with him regarding abortion, President Ronald Reagan said, “The question of abortion grips our nation. Abortion is either the taking of human life, or it isn’t; and if it is — and medical technology is increasingly showing it is — it must be stopped.” He also said “it is a terrible irony that while some turn to abortion, so many others who cannot become parents cry out for children to adopt.”
In 2003, the same year Biden backed a partial-birth abortion ban, President George W. Bush spoke out against partial-birth abortion in his State of the Union address, saying “we must not overlook the weakest among us. I ask you to protect infants at the very hour of their birth and end the practice of partial-birth abortion.”
Another more recent, prominent mention of abortion in a State of the Union address was from Biden’s predecessor former President Donald Trump. “Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth,” he said in 2019. “These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world.”
“To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb,” Trump continued. “Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life. And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: all children — born and unborn — are made in the holy image of God.”
In his remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, President Biden also mentioned the image of God, saying “every person is created equal in the image of God — no matter who or where we come from, who we are, or what our color, or how we choose to pray, or whether or not we choose to pray — they deserve to be treated equally throughout their lives.” As a Catholic president who claims to rely on his faith, he could recognize with the Catechism of the Catholic Church that “every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God.”