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Biden Versus The Catholic Church: When Politics And Religion Collide

The Catholic president is being rebuked by his church.


The issue of abortion is driving a wedge between the president and his religion.


Joe Biden is clashing with his church over the divisive issue of abortion. Biden is vocal about his desire to expand abortion rights. He plans to reverse the Trump-era attacks on abortion rights and started by repealing the global gag rule. Moreover, he wants to include cover for abortion in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This limits state restrictions on abortion access.


Now, Biden's more liberal attitude towards abortion has angered the Catholic Church. According to reports, some US Catholic bishops to consider no longer want to grant Biden communion.


The president’s Catholic faith is well-known. On the morning of his inauguration, he attended Mass. Biden is the oldest child of an Irish, Catholic family. He was the first Catholic vice-president. He is now the second Catholic president after John F Kennedy. He regularly attends Mass and has been seen to cross himself in public. Biden even considered becoming a priest at various points in his life.


Biden’s support for abortion contradicts the teaching of the Catholic Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church labels abortion as murder. Now, Biden wants to expand abortion rights and make it easier for abortions to take place.


The president’s more progressive attitude does not mesh with the conservative church hierarchy. In response, the church has voted to draft new guidance on the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It could be used as theological justification to deny the president communion. The bishops will debate and amend the proposal at the bishops’ Committee on Doctrine. They will then vote on it.


The debate over abortion dates back to 1973 and the Supreme Court’s verdict on Roe v. Wade. This landmark case saw women’s right to have an abortion protected without excessive restrictions as set down by the government.


Nearly 50 years after Roe v. Wade, the abortion debate has not disappeared. Conservative states such as Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi have trigger laws that would effectively ban abortions if Roe V. Wade is overturned. Liberal states such as California and Connecticut have their own trigger laws that maintain women’s right to have an abortion.


Biden’s clash with the church is a reminder of the strong presence of conservatism in the US. Biden's election victory suggested that the US might be entering a phase of more liberal politics and policies. However, conservatism will not go quietly, especially when it comes to the issue of abortion.


Yet, the bishops are at odds with the majority of American Catholics on abortion. 56% of the US Catholics believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. US Catholics also agree with the rest of the US adult population over Roe v. Wade. 68% opposing overturning it.


More devout Catholics still oppose abortion. 67% of those who attend Mass regularly believe abortion should be legal. Views on abortion are further split along party lines. 63% of Catholic Republicans oppose abortion. By contrast, 77% of Catholic Democrats want to protect abortion rights.


The debate is polarised. The Catholic church’s stance on abortion does not reflect that of Catholic Americans. It is both a political and religious issue. Church leaders are censuring the president whilst the Supreme Court will hear a case in the autumn about a 2019 abortion law in Mississippi.


The Mississippi law bans abortion after 15 weeks from a woman’s last period. The law still applies in cases of rape and incest. If the Supreme Court uphold this, it would be a watershed moment in the fight against abortion rights. Although the law applies only to Mississippians, it would effectively deny them the right to an abortion.


Abortion was a contentious issue during Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump appointed three conservative justices to the Supreme Court, giving the court a 5-4 conservative lean. This would make it easier for conservatives to overturn Roe v. Wade.


Now, the conservative lean on the Court will set the tone for abortion judgments in the coming years. Brett Kavanaugh, the second Trump appointee, will be an important figure when the case begins. In his confirmation hearing, Senator Susan Collins (R - ME) asked whether Kavanaugh would protect Roe v. Wade. Kavanaugh replied that it was part of Article III of the Constitution. For liberals, this offered some hope that the conservative Kavanaugh would not overturn Roe v. Wade.


However, interpreters of Kavanaugh’s rulings during his time on the Supreme Court are casting doubt over his commitment to Roe v. Wade. In a recent opinion on the 1981 decision Rostker v. Goldberg, Kavanaugh strongly implied that a precedent could be overturned if the circumstances changed. If Kavanaugh does vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, this logic will be part of his justification.


Abortion is a religious and political issue. Biden will continue to fight for abortion rights. Meanwhile, a decision on Roe v. Wade is fast approaching. The coming months will determine the future of abortion in the US. The result is in doubt but the fight will be bitter and the decision divisive. Whatever the judgement, this will not be the last time abortion is a flashpoint issue in the US.


Written by James Hingley


James Hingley is a columnist at DecipherGrey.


Photograph: David Lienemann |Instagram.com | Wikimedia.org