Joe Biden the Flip-Flopper: From “Pro-Life” to Pro-Abortion

Opinion   |   Douglas Johnson   |   Oct 10, 2012   |   6:45PM   |   Washington, DC

On October 9, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) disseminated an email alert, urging its supporters nationwide to lobby ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz, who will moderate the October 11 debate between Vice President Joe Biden and the Republican nominee for vice president, Congressman Paul Ryan.

In the alert, Jennifer Dalven, who is the director of the ACLU “Reproductive Freedom Project,” complained that the abortion issue did not come up during the first presidential debate on October 3.   She asked readers to send an email to Raddatz to urge that she press for answers “straight from the candidates’ mouths [on] where they stand on  . . . access to abortion. . .”

However Raddatz reacts to this campaign, it is likely that abortion will come up one way or another in the debate.  When it does, most likely Biden will give voice to the Obama campaign theme that Romney and Ryan hold “extreme” views on pro-life issues, or even that Republicans are waging a “war on women.”

Yet, for anyone who is familiar with Biden’s actual record during his decades in the U.S. Senate, this begs for a couple of follow up questions — such as, “Mr. Biden, since you yourself voted for several major types of pro-life legislation for a period of decades in the U.S. Senate — taking positions the same as Mr. Ryan on those issues — when exactly did you decide that those positions were ‘extreme’?”  Or even better, “Mr. Biden, isn’t it hypocritical for you to criticize Mr. Ryan for supporting positions for which you yourself often voted as a U.S. senator — especially since your record is opposite the positions taken by Barack Obama on those same issues?”

Many readers might be surprised to read the statement made by to the Wall Street Journal in 1986 by Jeannie Rosoff, then a top official of Planned Parenthood:  “Joe Biden moans a lot and then usually votes against us.”

This is not to say that Biden was ever a solid, consistent supporter of the pro-life agenda, as Ryan has been.  Even early in Biden’s long Senate career, which began in 1973, he suggested that allowing legal abortion (at least early in pregnancy) was “consistent with the tenets of religious freedom.”  But he also said he thought Roe v. Wade had gone too far — and in 1982, as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he voted for a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade.  An objective examination of Biden’s record in the Senate (1973 through 2008) reveals him to be a long way from Barack Obama.  On many key pro-life issues, including limits on late abortion and federal funding of abortion, Biden voted for legislation that is consistent with the votes cast by Paul Ryan — and in stark contrast with the extreme pro-abortion positions taken by Obama both as a legislator and as president.

For example, throughout his Senate career Biden voted for the Hyde Amendment, prohibiting most federal funding of abortion.  Indeed, Biden explicitly advocated that the Hyde Amendment should contain an exception only to save the life of the mother, and he voted repeatedly against adding exceptions for rape and incest to the amendment.  Biden also consistently voted for the federal ban on partial-birth abortions.  He expressed concern that the so-called “Freedom of Choice Act” would go too far in overturning state abortion limitations.

Even if Biden has changed his mind on some or all of these issues — it is one thing to say one has changed one’s mind, quite another to assert that one’s previous position was “extreme” or constituted a “war on women.”

Here are four major abortion policy issues (not an exhaustive list) on which Joe Biden as a senator took positions directly contrary to the positions embraced by Barack Obama — but consistent with the positions taken by Paul Ryan:

Partial-Birth Abortion:  In 1995, legislation was introduced in Congress to place a national ban on partial-birth abortion — the abortion method, used usually in the fifth and sixth months and sometimes later, in which the baby is mostly delivered alive before being stabbed in the head and killed.  Biden consistently voted for this legislation and against attempts to weaken it.  When President Clinton twice vetoed the ban, Biden voted to override the vetoes.  The ban finally became law in 2003, when Congress again passed it with Biden’s support and sent it to President George W. Bush, who signed it.  The ban was vehemently opposed by pro-abortion advocacy groups, in part because it contained no so-called “health” exception (although it did contain an exception for life-of-mother cases), and it applied both before and after “viability.”

In 2007, when Biden was challenged on his support for the ban when speaking before a liberal group; he responded, “I voted for the partial-birth abortion ban . . . I think it’s an extraordinary circumstance, I make no apologies for it.”

In contrast, Barack Obama opposed a similar ban on partial-birth abortion as a member of the Illinois State Senate.  When Obama arrived in the U.S. Senate, the federal ban had already been enacted, but when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban in 2007, Obama denounced the Court’s ruling.  Soon after that, Obama cosponsored the “Freedom of Choice Act,” a proposed federal bill designed to nullify the federal ban on partial-birth abortion — and virtually all other federal and state limitations on abortion.

“Freedom of Choice Act”  During much of Biden’s Senate career, pro-abortion groups actively pushed officeholders to embrace the “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA).  The FOCA of the 1990s was a bill to overturn virtually all state limitations on abortion.  Biden repeatedly declined to support such legislation unless a number of exceptions were added — exceptions that were unpalatable to pro-abortion advocacy groups.



For example, in a 1990 letter, he said, “I have some questions about the language of S. 1912 [FOCA] and its legal implications.  For example, it could result in federal preemption of state abortion regulations and laws in areas where Roe v. Wade now permits states to act, such as laws regulating second and third trimester abortions.”

(While Biden in that statement and on other occasions displayed a misunderstanding of the full parameters of the original Roe v. Wade, the statement is one evidence among many that he was sympathetic in that era to recognizing state power to place some limits on abortion, which was contrary to the core purpose of the FOCA.)

In 2007, on the day after the Supreme Court upheld the ban on partial-birth abortions, pro-abortion leaders in Congress reintroduced the FOCA.  This bill (S. 1173) contained explicit language to overturn federal as well as state limits on abortion — and the bill was openly billed by its sponsors as incorporating nullification of the federal ban on partial-birth abortion that the Supreme Court had just upheld.  On May 11, 2007, Senator Obama cosponsored this FOCA, but Senator Biden did not.  (For more information, see “Pro-Abortion Lawmakers Propose ‘FOCA’ to Invalidate All Limits on Abortion,” NRL News, April 25, 2007.)

On July 17, 2007, Obama told the Planned Parenthood Action Fund that if elected president, “The first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act.  Now that’s the first thing I’d do.”  Since Congress never sent the FOCA to Obama’s desk, this promise was never tested, but Obama has never repudiated his endorsement of the FOCA.

On  October 9, 2012, the Center for Reproductive Rights announced a new campaign for a “national level” solution to end state-imposed limitations on abortion — a possible precursor to a renewed drive for the FOCA if Obama is re-elected.  Does Biden continue to oppose such an extreme national abortion statute — or does he now embrace the FOCA endorsements of Barack Obama?

Federal Funding for Abortion For decades, Senator Joe Biden voted for the Hyde Amendment and similar limitations on federal funding for abortion.  In 1983, Biden wrote, “I might also add that I find it difficult to understand how those who refuse to limit the right of abortion in this country can at the same time support the expansion of the government’s financial involvement in providing for abortions. That is why I have been a consistent supporter of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of Medicaid funds to finance abortions. I believe that it is not the government’s business to be promoting abortion in any way.” In a 1994 letter, Biden wrote, “[T]hose of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them.  As you may know, I have consistently — on no fewer than 50 occasions — voted against federal funding of abortion.”

It is noteworthy, especially in view of recent rhetoric from the Obama campaign and the mainstream news media, that Biden consistently favored the original form of the Hyde Amendment, which contained only one exception, allowing federal funding if an abortion was deemed necessary to save the life of the mother.  When opportunities were presented to Biden to choose between the Hyde Amendment with only the life-of-mother exception, and proposals to add additional exceptions, Biden supported the life-of-mother-only version.

Biden advocated the life-of-mother-only position at least as early as 1977, and at least as late as 1988, which was the last time that the Senate voted directly on the question of whether to add exceptions for rape and incest.  (Roll call on inclusion of rape/incest amendments in the Hyde Amendment, September 13, 1988, roll call no. 326.)

Ultimately, in 1993, Congressman Hyde himself added rape-incest exceptions in order to fend off an attempt by newly elected President Clinton and his allies to repeal the Hyde Amendment altogether.  After that, the Senate no longer voted on whether to add the exceptions.

As an Illinois state senator, as a U.S. senator, and as a candidate for president in 2007-2008, Barack Obama consistently opposed all limitations on government funding of abortion, including the Hyde Amendment.  As president, Obama has sometimes used clever verbal formulas to fool some gullible journalists into thinking that he now supports the Hyde Amendment, but in reality Obama has never changed his substantive position.

Indeed, in 2009-2010 Obama worked actively against the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which would have applied the principles of the Hyde Amendment to his health care legislation, which is why the final Obamacare law contains multiple abortion-expansive provisions.  In 2010 he issued a hollow executive order which many journalists accepted as extending the Hyde Amendment to Obamacare, but which NRLC dismissed as “a transparent political fig leaf” and the president of Planned Parenthood dismissed as “a symbolic gesture.”

In short, Obama’s actually record on federal funding of abortion is fully consistent with the language of the 2012 Democratic Party platform, which says, “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay.”  As was widely reported, President Obama personally fine-tuned some other planks in the 2012 platform — but he did not touch this unequivocal language in support of government-funded abortion.

Protections for infants born alive during abortions:  On 2001, Biden voted for the language of the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (BAIPA), which recognizes babies who are born alive during abortions as legally protected persons.  (Senate roll call 208, June 29, 2001)  The roll call in favor of this legislation was 98-0.

In contrast, in 2003, state Senator Obama voted against an Illinois bill that was a direct copy of the federal bill.   In an August 16, 2008 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Obama denied having ever voted against an Illinois bill containing the federal language, and said NRLC was “lying” for asserting that he had done so.

On August 25, 2008, concluded that NRLC was truthful, stating:  “Obama’s claim is wrong. . . The documents from the NRLC support the group’s claims that Obama is misrepresenting the contents of SB 1082 [the BAIPA].”   (For further details, see the NRLC White Paper of August 28, 2008.)

On September 10, 2012, the Washington Post Fact Checker column concluded, regarding Obama’s 2008 denial, “The evidence suggests we could have awarded Four Pinocchios to the former Illinois senator for his [2008] comments to the Christian Broadcasting Network . . . ”  (“Four Pinocchios” is the Post‘s highest rating for deception.)

The contrast between the histories of Barack Obama and Joe Biden on abortion policy issues is only one evidence among many that Obama holds positions on abortion-related issues that are far outside the mainstream of public opinion in America.  However, the “mainstream” news media so far have shown an aversion in exploring the outer parameters of Obama’s positions on abortion policy, despite their prevalent eagerness to scrutinize — and often amplify and misinterpret — the positions of pro-life Republicans.   Biden is probably counting on his abortion policy history falling squarely into that great big news media blind spot.

LifeNews Note: Douglas Johnson is the legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.