In an exclusive interview with America released at the beginning of this week, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. affirmed that pro-life people "absolutely, positively" are welcome in the Democratic party and that he believes, as a Catholic, that "abortion is always wrong." His comments, very different from most contributions to the political conversation about abortion, are blurring some long-established lines in the culture wars and generating significant interest in the media and among commentators.
National Review, Talking Points Memo and the Daily Caller have all run pieces reporting on these remarks. Additionally Life News, The Washington Free Beacon and The National Catholic Register have also chimed in.
Mr. Biden spoke at length about how he understands the tension between the demands of his faith and his position on abortion. When Fr. Matt Malone, S.J., America's editor in chief, asked Mr. Biden if it was difficult taking positions on issues that put him at odds with U.S. Bishops, as in the case of abortion, he responded:
"It has been hard...I’m prepared to accept that at the moment of conception there’s human life and being, but I’m not prepared to say that to other God-fearing [and] non-God-fearing people that have a different view,” Biden said. He continued, "Abortion is always wrong...But I’m not prepared to impose doctrine that I’m prepared to accept on the rest of [the country].” (See the exchange, which begins at the 13:30 mark, in the full interview embedded at the bottom of this post.)
Fr. Malone also asked Mr. Biden if there was room for people who are pro-life in the Democratic party. The Vice President responded resolutely: "Absolutely. Absolutely, positively. And that's been my position for as long as I've been engaged."
The organization Democrats for Life, which would obviously fall under the category the Vice President is welcoming, has been calling on current Democratic presidential candidates to answer the same question:
— Democrats for Life (@demsforlife) September 21, 2015
Despite the intensified rhetoric coming from certain special interest groups, American views on abortion don't fall neatly into the expected partisan binaries. As Charlie Camosy has said before in this space, 63 percent of Republicans, for instance, want abortion to be legal. 21 million Democrats identify as pro-life. 73 percent of Americans overall want abortion banned after 12 weeks.
Later this week, the Senate will vote on whether or not to defund Planned Parenthood. Yesterday, a Senate vote for cloture failed to advance the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to the floor for a vote. The House has already passed both versions of those bills. The ongoing legislative drama is likely to be filled with grandstanding and filibustering from both sides of the aisle, reinforcing the tired myth that abortion views are a pure orthodoxy within political parties.
Both the polling data Mr. Camosy points to and the Vice President's remarks suggest that these pitched battles and the political stalemate around abortion fall short of the actual complexity of the debate. Cardinal Dolan also said in his blog this week: "None of these bills are perfect, and people of good will can have significant reservations about each of them. People can also differ about the wisdom of the political and legislative strategies involved."
In other words, we need to find room to breath—and talk—between #DefundPP and #IStandWithPlannedParenthood.