Yo, New York Times editors: There are several Catholic angles linked to Joe Biden's abortion flip

As many pro-life Democrats and others have noted in social media: That didn’t take long.

After years of opposing the use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortion — supporting the Hyde Amendment — former Vice President Joe Biden bowed the knee to primary-season realities in this “woke” era of Democratic Party life and reversed himself on this issue. Thus, he erased one of his few remaining ties to his old role as a centrist, compromise figure in his party on moral, cultural and religious issues.

Needless to say, the word “Catholic” may have something to do with this story. That term even made it into the New York Times coverage of this policy flip. See this all-politics headline: “Behind Biden’s Reversal on Hyde Amendment: Lobbying, Backlash and an Ally’s Call.

The overture focused on the political forces that yanked Biden’s chain, from members of his staff to rivals in the White Race. The Planned Parenthood team called early and often. Then, down in the body of the story, there was this:

A Roman Catholic, Mr. Biden has spent decades straddling the issue of abortion, asserting his support for individual abortion rights and the codification of Roe v. Wade, while also backing the Hyde Amendment, arguing that it was an inappropriate use of taxpayer money.

But Mr. Biden, his allies acknowledge, had plainly misread what activists on the left would accept on an extraordinarily sensitive issue. For all his reluctance to abandon his long-held position on federal funding for abortion, Mr. Biden ultimately shifted in order to meet the mood of emergency within his party’s electoral base.

The big word, of course, is “base” — which usually means “primary voters.” The question is whether the “base” that turns out in primary season has much to do with the mainstream voters that are crucial in the Rust Belt and the few Southern states that a Democrat has a chance to steal in a general election.

So where, in this Times report, were the voices from pro-life Democrats and progressive and centrist Catholics who wanted to see Biden try to reclaim blue-collar and Catholic votes that, in 2016, ended up — #LesserOfTwoEvils — going to Donald Trump? I would imagine they are hiding between the lines in the following material:

Other supporters of the former vice president, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, were frustrated that he shifted on an issue in which polls show most general election voters agree with him. One high-level Biden backer predicted the reversal would be a negative for him in crucial Midwestern states, should he become the nominee.

Why did they need to be anonymous? Does anyone really need to ask that question, in this “woke” era?

Let’s keep reading:

Separately, Michael Wear, an anti-abortion Democrat who served in the Obama-Biden administration, expressed exasperation that his party was not attempting to seize the mantle of moderation on abortion at a time when Republicans in states like Alabama are seeking to ban the procedure, even in cases of rape and incest.

“Given the extremism of the Republican Party right now on this issue, are pro-choice women really going to stay home because we support the Hyde Amendment?” Mr. Wear asked. He pointed to polling from the 2016 presidential race indicating that only 36 percent of likely voters said they supported allowing Medicaid to cover abortion.

But just as Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia — like Mr. Biden a practicing Catholic — dropped his support for the Hyde Amendment after Hillary Clinton put him on the ticket three years ago, Mr. Biden had little choice now, his supporters said.

Translation: He has little choice, facing the realities of primary-season dynamics and, yes, media coverage.

So here is my journalism question: Where are the Catholic voices — left and right — in this story? Where are the experts in church-law who can discuss the sacramental implications of this decision? Hold that thought, because we will come back to it.

Meanwhile — as my GetReligion colleague Julia Duin noted in a recent post — it is very hard to find support for the Democratic Party’s current support for abortion in all cases, up to and including what activists on the other side have started calling fourth-trimester abortion.

The percentage of Americans who want to overturn Roe v. Wade remains small — unless pollsters dig into the details of the legal realities that have bled out of the Roe era.

Look at the details in this recent Marist poll commissioned by NPR/PBS (full .pdf here):

So “never for any reason” is only 9 percent. However, look at the “any time in pregnancy number,” as well. What some people have called the “modern pro-life position” — a phrase that starts debates of its own — is an abortion ban that makes exceptions only for the life of the mother, as well was the few cases involving rape and incest. How many back that stance? Take that 29 percent and add it to the other stronger anti-abortion options and you have 47 percent of those polled.

Then, if you add a first-trimester exception — creating a regime similar to the legal norms in Europe — that adds another 23 percent, for a total of 70 percent.

But what about Democrats? As it turns out, the Times recently had an interesting report on that subject, as well. Take a glance at this chart that ran with that story.

Screen Shot 2019-06-10 at 9.12.43 AM.png

Spot any patterns that make this an interesting story for religion-beat professionals? The story gently noted:

The more abortion-wary Democratic voters have been easy to miss as well, but they are increasingly familiar to those who have followed intra-Democratic politics this year.

They are less educated, more moderate, more religious, more rural, more likely to be nonwhite and to live in the South. Demographically, they are similar to the voters who have foiled the party’s progressive activists on many occasions so far this cycle. …

Veteran religion-beat pros will have already noticed this, but let me mention one other angle that the Times team — in my opinion — should have noted in the Biden flip story. (Maybe its time to involve a religion-beat pro in coverage of this subject?)

Biden is going to continue to be pushed on subjects linked to abortion. What happens when the fourth-trimester question comes up in a debate featuring the legion of alleged candidates for the Democratic nomination?

Note this recent Chicago Tribune report, under this headline: “Catholic bishop in Springfield: No communion for Madigan, Cullerton for supporting 'abominable' Illinois abortion rights bill.” Let’s look at parts of the overture: :

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have been banned from receiving communion in Springfield-area churches because of their support for legislation that expands abortion access.

Uh, “that expands abortion access”? That’s one way to put it. Here is another, care of — yes — the Catholic World Report:

Among the provisions that the bill would remove are regulations for abortion clinics, required waiting periods and parental notification to obtain an abortion, and a ban on partial-birth abortion. In addition, it would lift criminal penalties for performing abortions, remove conscience protections for health care personnel who object to abortion, and prevent any further state regulation of abortion.

The legislation would allow non-doctors to perform abortions, require all private health insurance plans to cover elective abortions, and eliminate reporting requirements as well as regulations requiring the investigation of maternal deaths due to abortion.

Back to the Tribune story:

The decree barring Illinois’ two highest-ranking lawmakers — both Catholic Democrats from Chicago — from taking the sacrament was issued by Thomas Paprocki, bishop of the Springfield Diocese, less than a week after an abortion rights bill won final approval in the legislature and was sent to Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Paprocki said in the decree that he imposed the sanction on Madigan and Cullerton because of their role in facilitating the passage of the proposed law, known as the Reproductive Health Act.

“They have obstinately persisted in promoting the abominable crime and very grave sin of abortion as evidenced by the influence they exerted in their leadership roles and their repeated votes and obdurate public support for abortion rights over an extended period of time,” the decree states. …

While the church sanctions singled out Madigan and Cullerton, Paprocki’s decree also advises any Catholic state lawmaker who backed the abortion bill not to present themselves for Holy Communion because they “cooperated in evil and committed grave sin” by voting in favor of the measure.

Might this become relevant, sooner or later, to the Biden story? Stay tuned.

Please respect our Commenting Policy