The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Biden on abortion: “For me to impose my judgment is inappropriate”

First, Pelosi, now Biden.

Another prominent American Catholic politician is wading into deep — and hot — water over the issue of abortion. And it happened, once again, in remarks made on “Meet the Press.” This time, it was Delaware Senator and Democratic nominee for vice president, Joe Biden.
Here’s the story, from American Papist. The senator was asked “When does life begin,” and replied:

I’d say, “Look, I know when it begins for me.” It’s a personal and private issue. For me, as a Roman Catholic, I’m prepared to accept the teachings of my church.


From there, he then went on, wading deeper:

But let me tell you. There are an awful lot of people of great confessional faiths–Protestants, Jews, Muslims and others–who have a different view. They believe in God as strongly as I do. They’re intensely as religious as I am religious. They believe in their faith and they believe in human life, and they have differing views as to when life–I’m prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society.


But wait, there’s more.

Barely 24 hours after making those remarks, the Biden is expected to attend the installation of Wilmington’s new bishop, W. Francis Malooly. This could get interesting:

Malooly said he won’t be surprised if the media ask him about the best-known member of his new diocese — Sen. Joe Biden, who is running for vice president.

Biden, a 35-year member of the Senate, has said he believes in Catholic teachings on the sanctity of life but has often voted in favor of abortion rights.

“I’m anxious to have a chance to speak with him as I would any politician,” Malooly said at a farewell reception in Parkville, Md., last Sunday.


He’ll seek to understand Biden’s point of view, much as he did with Maryland politicians. And Malooly said that he will share the scope of Catholic pro-life teachings with Biden.

A sizable number of Catholics hold beliefs that go against church teachings, the bishop said.

“I have to work on everybody, not just Joe Biden,” Malooly said.

Biden has been invited to the installation, but as of late Friday, Biden’s staff still was trying to work out the candidate’s schedule so he could attend.

Meantime, Biden’s running mate is making some abortion news himself:

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama acknowledged Sunday that he was probably too flip when he said it was “above my pay grade” to answer a question about when is a baby entitled to human rights.


Obama gave his answer last month at a nationally televised religious forum sponsored by minister Rick Warren at his megachurch in Orange County, Calif.

Asked on Sunday whether the “above my pay grade” answer was too flip, Obama said: “Probably. …What I intended to say is that, as a Christian, I have a lot of humility about understanding when does the soul enter into … It’s a pretty tough question.

“And so, all I meant to communicate was that I don’t presume to be able to answer these kinds of theological questions,” he said in an interview broadcast Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

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posted September 7, 2008 at 7:51 pm

This is the Mario “The Pious” Coumo defense. Same thoughts, just different wording.

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posted September 7, 2008 at 8:39 pm

Imposing one’s views is one thing, but taking one’s faith and putting it into practice demands some integrity of action and belief. Laws are impositions placed on us all. All our laws are based on human values which our religious faith enlightens and invigorates. It is tiring to hear people use the “I won’t impose my faith on others” excuse.Also, the Church’s teaching on abortion is a teaching based on reason, not revelation. It is not an imposition of an article of faith to argue against abortion. It is a reasoned position on a moral issue. Certainly, one can exert the power of reason in the area of political life. Good politicians use their persuasive power to create change. One can do so persuasively in the area of this moral issue too.

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posted September 7, 2008 at 9:13 pm

“[T]he Church’s teaching on abortion is a teaching based on reason, not revelation. It is not an imposition of an article of faith to argue against abortion.”We all may believe this is true, but remember: in our pluralistic society–one that by definition rejects the notion that any single faith has pride of place in the public sphere–many others, including those who profess Christianity, see opposition to abortion as a sectarian belief identified principally with a single, albeit large, denomination. They reject out of hand the notion that the leaders of that single denomination can assert the right to decide what is a sectarian view and what is not. The dilemma faced by Biden specifically, and by Catholic Democrats generally, is not whether abortion is good or bad, but what public policy should be, which is a different question. Remember, a clear majority of the public is willing to tolerate more abortions (rape, incest, the life or physical health of the mother) than the church is willing to tolerate (no exceptions whatsoever). He already votes against the use of public funds to pay for abortions, even for the poor, which irritates one of the major blocs within the Democratic party. That bloc has a new principal argument in favor of its preferred view on abortion (no restrictions whatsoever): that it is a civil right for women on a par with the right to vote.

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posted September 8, 2008 at 12:23 am

Nosebiten, Alveda King, granddaughter of MLK, would strongly disagree. I got to meet her this past year in San Francisco at the West Coast March for Life. If you go to you tube, you can listen to her speech. Alveda, who has had an abortion herself and repented, says the “greatest civil rights issue of our day is abortion.” I’m quite sure her grandfather would also agree!As Catholics, our Authority, which is guided by the Holy Spirit, always has the final say. But just as important, God’s law ALWAYS triumphs man’s laws. As Catholics, there are no exceptions. Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorium, are two brave souls who come to mind, and of course the grea ,late (RIP) Henry Hyde. There are more, just giving a few examples. Futhermore, Catholicism is based on natural law.The bottom line; real Catholics don’t leave their faith at home. Rick Santorium was deeply hated for his pro life views, and most likely, his demise in this last election was a consequence of it. Ask Rick and he would do it the same way all over again, as would any devout Catholic. To say abortion rights are up there with civil rights is beyond absurd. Even taking religion aside, I ask, when was the last time anyone who believes that read our Declaration of Independence? If we don’t have life, there is no point to ANY civil issue DURING life. As for the rape and incest argument, I think if most people thought that through, it would be obvious as to how illogical it is, especially in a country that has adoptive parents’ waiting lists for American born babies. I could understand why a mother may have a hard time RAISING a child from a rape or incest, but NOT in giving birth to it. To kill a baby from rape or incest only creates a 2nd innocent victim. And as Dcn. Greg posted in the past week or so, (the story about the nun who was raped and became pregnant), SOMEONE has to change the violence to love. I suspect the reason the CC is the lone ranger on this is that more than any faith, Catholics “live the cross; pick it up, and follow”In this country 90% of Down syndrome babies are aborted. Little do most know, they are destroying God’s love, in its purest form. Is it any wonder our world has become so violent? A little off subject, but that last fact alone should have the whole country rallying behind Palin. That’s unselfish love, the REAL kind.

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posted September 8, 2008 at 10:02 am

klaire,I’m not arguing the morality of abortion. I’m describing the public policy issue and delineating the counterargument of the Gloria Steinems of the world. Law and morality is a major philosophical and public policy issue that dates at least as far back as Aquinas. To the Catholic politician, as for everyone else, “Is abortion always morally wrong?” is not the same question as “Should abortion be always illegal?” It is not as simple as some authoritarian bishops (Morlino, for example) would have it.

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posted September 8, 2008 at 10:36 am

Dear nosebiteman:In your response to me, I think you misunderstand my point. I don’t see the Church’s position on abortion as a “belief”. It is a reasoned position on a moral issue. Catholics, non-Catholics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, Buddhists and all others can reasonable come to the same conclusion: life begins at conception and is worthy of legal protection as a human person. I submit that refusing to advocate for this in Congress or elsewhere under the excuse of “not imposing my religious faith on others” is an unreasonable use of faith. It is a twisting of the truth, and a misrepresentation of the whole issue.

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Matthew Wade

posted September 8, 2008 at 11:46 am

nosebiteman, I’m going to use some hysteron proteron progression with your argument, so forgive me if I seem to be arguing backwards, it’s crucial to do this.You say: “Law and morality is a major philosophical and public policy issue that dates at least as far back as Aquinas.” Surely, though, you don’t think that law and morality have only been public policy issues for ~800 years? Please see Emperor Justinian’s decrees in the 6th century, Plato’s Republic, and Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics as older examples. I can only assume that you made this apparent mistake for two reasons: 1) you’re contextually aligning your comment with Biden’s comments, or 2) you believe that, until St. Thomas, no one attempted to reconcile law, morality, and public policy.In response to 1), I think you make the mistake of discrediting your own arguments by concession.In response to 2), I can’t convince you in a short response, but I urge you to reference the works I listed above as well the Codex of Roman laws available in most University libraries. And these are certainly not the only sources of the morality/public policy synthesis.You say: “The dilemma faced by Biden specifically, and by Catholic Democrats generally, is not whether abortion is good or bad, but what public policy should be, which is a different question.”What you’ve conveniently, or circumstantially, chosen to do is not provide a definition of “public policy”. In your attempt to “delineate” you’ve separated the chicken from the egg. Your implicated defintion of public policy is “that which brings about that which is neither good nor bad.” Certainly there are those in the public who consider thievery a person’s right to choose; who consider fraud a person’s right to choose. You could deconstruct my examples in light of constitutionality if you want, but each of the two acts requires an underlying identification of morality and law.I won’t buy eggs from you, for your shells are empty.

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posted September 8, 2008 at 1:30 pm

dcbob,The point I made is not that I hold that the church’s teaching on abortion, based on natural law principles, is simply belief and not, as you say, a “reasoned position on a moral issue.” It is that many others say that arguments based on natural law principles are in fact religious arguments and thus have no place in the civil code, at least in a country that has no established religion. Do you want, say, Pat Roberton’s views on evolution to be part of the public education system? Another, less deadly variation of the same question, but one that is surely alive today (as Governor Palin would attest!). We have done a poor job in articulating the pro-life position as clearly nonsectarian, which I believe is essential in winning the public policy debate on this issue. mattwade,You want a whole disquisition on law and morality? I studied it in 1969. Aquinas is just an example, and one of great moment to Catholics, as for the 600 years you cite he was the foundational figure in Catholic philosophy. If this teaching moment that you’ve presented here were worth it, I’d dig into some of my old notes (I still have them!).Let me also solemnly assure you that public policy does not mean “that which brings about that which is neither good nor bad.” Very clever but about 180 degrees from the truth–or from any valid inference you could have made from what I wrote. You want a definition? How’s this: Public policy is the set of core principles that undergird what the state and its citizens may or may not do. The argument over abortion — little more than namecalling: “You murderer!” “Oh yeah? You oppressor!” — is about the contents of these core principles.

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posted September 8, 2008 at 6:59 pm

Nosebiteman:I agree we have done a poor job articulating the pro-life position as nonsectarian. Natural law principles, as you know, are not religious arguments but human experience articulated in a certain way. Unfortunately, people wlth no philosophical training struggle to understand the issues of which we are speaking in that way.I don’t think natural law principles, or my point that the abortion issue a reasoned position to which all can come, is equivalent to Robertson’s view on evolution. It seems like an apple and oranges comparison. Could you explain the juxtaposition of the two in your last post?

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johnny b

posted September 8, 2008 at 9:56 pm

7th grade science class was the first time I learned about when life begins. This is science, not theology. But hey, if it makes Barry H. Obama humble, then thats a start.

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posted September 8, 2008 at 10:27 pm

dccbob,Why the juxtaposition?We would see incorporating Pat Robertson’s view on evolution into the public school curriculum as an inappropriate invasion of a sectarian religious principle into the civil code, which is designed to be religiously neutral. Because a sizeable segment of others believe that natural law philosophy is actually religious dogma in disguise, they believe that incorporating a ban on abortions using natural law principles as similarly inappropriate.

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