Joe Biden should run for the Democratic nomination for the presidency and defend the pro-life cause. This strange and seemingly unlikely idea came to me after I read an account of a recent interview in which Vice President Biden admitted that, as a Catholic, he accepts as a matter of faith that life begins at conception and that abortion is always wrong.
There is some confusion in Biden’s position. In the first place, he speaks as if the Church’s teaching on abortion is simply a matter of faith. That is not quite right. Rather, the Church teaches that the presence of a human life from conception is knowable by natural reason and therefore that the wrongness of abortion is part of the rationally discernible natural law.
If Biden could come to appreciate this, it would help him to avoid the other point of confusion in his remarks. He says that while he believes abortion is wrong, he would not want to “impose” this belief on other people. But this approach–which emphasizes the difference between holding a belief and imposing it on others–overlooks the obvious middle ground–namely, trying to persuade other people that life begins at conception and that abortion is wrong. Biden would be able to see this as another possible path if he corrected his view that the Church’s teaching against abortion is a form of revealed doctrine rather than an authoritative teaching about the moral law that is accessible to and binding on everybody.
Anyway, if Biden could achieve clarity on these issues, a run for the Democratic nomination defending unborn life would be a truly noble final act to his long and distinguished public career. On the other hand, it would be very hard to expect him to do this. In the first place, the confusion in his thinking about this question is probably very deeply rooted, so it would not be easy for him to overcome. In the second place, if he ran for the Democratic nomination he would probably want a realistic chance to win, and that aspiration is completely incompatible with being politically pro-life these days, given the state of opinion on this question within the Democratic Party.
Biden’s remarks, however, point to the possibility of a less ambitious but still helpful back-up position. When the interviewer asked him whether there was any place in the Democratic Party for pro-life people, Biden responded, “Absolutely. Absolutely, positively. That’s been my position for as long as I’ve been engaged” in politics.
Biden, then, could run for the Democratic nomination for the presidency without telling Democrats that they have to be pro-life, but telling them that they should welcome pro-life people to the Party, that they should not regard pro-life people as beyond the pale or “anti-woman,” reminding liberals in the Democratic Party that pro-life Americans hold a very respectable moral view that they may disagree with but should not denounce. That would be helpful.