The media are reporting on what would seem to be an oxymoron: a “devout Catholic” who supports “abortion rights.” In this case, President Joe Biden.
As the second U.S. president in history to identify as Catholic, Biden visibly practices his faith, from attending Mass to quoting St. Augustine at his inauguration. But there’s at least one area where he’s at odds with the Catholic Church: abortion. And the media, from NPR to NBC News, are fascinated by it. But in their reports about Biden, Catholicism, and abortion, they are missing an opportunity – a chance to delve into the pro-life position on abortion.
For decades, Biden voted repeatedly against abortion. But he noticeably flipped on the issue as he prepared for the 2020 election and ran on the Democratic Party platform that calls for “safe and legal abortion.” Since his inauguration, he has reaffirmed his support for Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide, and so-called “reproductive health care.”
At her first press conference as White House press secretary, Jen Psaki even dodged a question about pro-life policy by pointing to Biden’s faith.
"I will just take the opportunity to remind all of you that he is a devout Catholic and somebody who attends church regularly,” Psaki said of Biden.
If reporters took Psaki for her word, they should assume that Biden is pro-life – and backs pro-life policies. But instead, Biden’s position presents a problem: While he calls himself publicly Catholic, he considers himself personally pro-life.
His stance clashes with Church teaching, which is steadfast in its position on abortion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which summarizes Church teaching, recognizes the inherent dignity and worth of the unborn.
“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception,” the catechism reads. “From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”
Church leaders agree. As recently as November, Pope Francis reaffirmed his condemnation of abortion.
“Is it fair to eliminate a human life to resolve a problem?” he wrote, referring to the abortion debate in Argentina. “Is it fair to hire a hitman to resolve a problem?”
And yet, the media tied Catholicism and abortion together in their headlines.
On January 23, an NPR headline read, “Biden Is Catholic. He Also Supports Abortion Rights. Here's What That Could Mean.”
Correspondent Sarah McCammon interviewed pro-life leaders, such as Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, and abortion supporters, like Jamie Manson, the President of Catholics for Choice.
“[F]or those who would like to see the church take a more permissive stance on issues including abortion, Biden's election is an opportunity,” McCammon urged.
THINK, the opinion page of NBC News, published a piece by Catholics for Choice’s Manson with the headline: “Biden's Catholic and supports abortion rights. It puts him in the majority of American Catholics.”
According to Manson, on January 22, “many practicing Catholics who support reproductive rights often do so not despite their faith, but because of it.”
When the U.S. government doesn’t back the “sexual and reproductive health of all people,” she insisted, Americans are guilty of “condemning millions to unsafe abortions, increased maternal death and the poverty and squandered opportunities that come from insisting that more than half the population does not have the right to make their own health care decisions.”
The unborn human person didn’t count in her calculations.
The next day, The New York Times published a piece declaring, “In Biden’s Catholic Faith, an Ascendant Liberal Christianity.”
Correspondent Elizabeth Dias went so far as to call President Biden “perhaps the most religiously observant commander in chief in half a century.” With Biden, she noted a “different, more liberal Christianity is ascendant: less focused on sexual politics and more on combating poverty, climate change and racial inequality.”
Except for that Biden has signaled his intent to focus on “sexual politics” – or, at least, abortion.
For NewsBusters on January 25, Senior News Analyst Kyle Drennen called out correspondent Anne Thompson for her comments about President Biden during NBC’s Sunday Today show.
“You see the impact of Catholic social doctrine on his policies regarding immigration, social justice, and the death penalty,” she said. “But I think what is really interesting here is all the people I talked to for this story said they see an opportunity for Joe Biden to lead a dialogue on abortion and how to reduce the number of procedures in the country.”
But the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion isn’t new – and isn’t changing.
“Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion,” the catechism reads. “This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.”
The Church takes abortion, a “crime against human life,” so seriously that getting an abortion – and helping someone else get an abortion – are grounds for automatic excommunication.
“Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law,” the catechism reads, and “Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense.”
That said, the Church also emphasizes forgiveness and mercy for those who have obtained abortions.
“The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy,” the catechism reads, but instead “makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.”
Biden’s position indeed presents an opportunity inform Americans about the threat abortion poses to human life and our culture. If only the media would take it.