The Corner

Further Thoughts on Biden and Abortion

On Saturday I described Biden as an ex-pro-lifer, noting that he used to support a constitutional amendment reversing Roe and granting states authority over abortion policy. NRO’s editors also called him a flip-flopper. The factual statements are correct. There is no doubt that Biden has flip-flopped. Years after supporting an amendment that would allow states to protect the unborn, he supported a law to stop them from being able to do it. He moved left on the issue.

Anyone who supported a Roe-reversing amendment today would be widely described as “pro-life.” But after receiving correspondence from one of my valued readers, I’m persuaded that Biden’s support for the amendment did not make the label fit. He never said, as far as I know, that states should protect the unborn. (I’ll let you know if I hear otherwise.)

For pro-lifers, there is one tiny hopeful sign in the Biden pick. For a long time now, the top ranks of the Democratic party have embraced an orthodoxy on abortion policy that includes support for taxpayer funding of it and for keeping partial-birth abortion legal. The Democratic platform supports taxpayer funding. The three top contenders in this year’s Democratic presidential primaries—Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards—support both taxpayer funding and partial-birth abortion.

Since partial-birth abortion became a political issue during Bill Clinton’s first term in office, every Democratic presidential and vice-presidential nominee has supported keeping it legal (or making it illegal in name with loopholes to keep it legal in practice). When Gore considered running with Evan Bayh in 2000, feminist leaders told reporters that he was unacceptable because he had voted against partial-birth abortion.

This time the feminists said very little as Obama considered Bayh and Biden. For the first time in many years, the Democrats have a candidate for national office who opposes taxpayer funding of abortion. For the first time since partial-birth abortion became an issue, they have a candidate who opposes it, too. It is a less important development, I think, than the fact that their presidential nominee believes that some forms of infanticide should be legal. But it strikes me nonetheless as progress, however painfully limited.

And it means that if McCain picks Joe Lieberman as his running mate, the Republican vice-presidential nominee will be to the left of the Democratic one on abortion policy.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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