No, Joe Biden, abortion is not "always wrong": When the conversation stops at "life begins at conception," women and girls suffer

The veep speaks in favor of choice, but misses the underlying morals

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published September 23, 2015 3:55PM (EDT)

  (AP/Evan Vucci)
(AP/Evan Vucci)

So have you had just about enough of old men giving their opinions about private moral choices women make regarding their reproductive autonomy? This is a trick question — It doesn't matter, because they will never stop sharing them. Joe Biden, come on down!

Biden, America's second-in-command and second-most chill American Catholic behind Stephen Colbert, has in the past acknowledged that "It is the biggest dilemma for me in terms of comporting my religious and cultural views with my political responsibility." And during the 2012 campaign he diplomatically stated that "I accept my Church’s position on abortion as a de fide doctrine. Life begins at conception. I accept that position in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians, and Muslims and and Jews… I do not believe that we have a right to tell women they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor. In my view and the Supreme Court, I’m not going to interfere with that."

Now, in an interview with Father Matt Malone, S.J. in America this week tied to the papal visit, he's addressing his views once again. While the man is entirely entitled to his own opinions about the subject of reproductive choice — and is to be heartily congratulated, I guess, for not enforcing those opinions on every female of childbearing age in America — as a fellow Catholic, I do wish he'd open his mind and heart a little more on the subject. I do wish, whenever I see two men discussing abortion, they'd consider the real experiences of women.

Biden tells Malone, "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, non ­God­ fearing people that have a different view." And he adds, "There's even been disagreement in our church, not that — abortion is always wrong, but there's been debate." Whoa, slow down, there, buddy. First of all, the Catholic church itself will allow for the application of what is known as the double effect — saving a mother's life even if the end result is the loss of pregnancy.

But more significantly, I'd like guys like Biden to seriously consider the "always wrong" aspect of their positions. I'd like them to think of the nearly 300,000 women who die each year from pregnancy and childbirth complications. I'd like them read Chilean journalist Paola Dragnic's wrenching tale of her first, life-threatening pregnancy, her fight to terminate it and her eventual second successful pregnancy. I'd like them to step very far outside of their comfortable and limited experiences and consider what it's like to be ten years old and pregnant by your stepfather's rape, and what the true "wrong" in that scenario is. I'd like them to think about the grieving family of a brain dead pregnant woman and a "distinctly abnormal" fetus, and their rights. Or even think about me, when I spent two years in an experimental trial for late stage cancer, knowing that I could not be treated if I became pregnant. Would Biden be able to look me in the eye and tell me that if I'd chosen then to have an abortion rather than risk a recurrence of deadly cancer, rather than risk leaving my two children I love without their mother, that would have been the "wrong" thing to do?

I believe life begins at conception, too. I believe my pregnancies were my babies. Not everyone who is wholeheartedly pro-choice argues that life doesn't begin at conception. Instead, we make ethical and moral decisions based on our individual and highly specific circumstances, and sometimes that is tough to do. As Dr. Susan Robinson puts it in "After Tiller," "You have choices. They all suck." For many women, abortion can be a completely positive experience. For others, it comes with risk and sadness. What all of them should be entitled to is the right to exercise their constitutional right, free of judgment and shame. And suggesting to women that their choices are subject to male judgment — that's what's always wrong.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Abortion Catholicism Joe Biden Pope Francis