President Joe Biden called on lawmakers to protect the right to abortion Tuesday in reaction to the news that the Supreme Court may be positioning itself to overturn Roe v. Wade, but there was a time when his views were different.
The New York Times reported in 2019 that when Biden was serving in the U.S. Senate, he supported a proposed Constitutional amendment that would have allowed individual states to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision. That amendment, called the “Hatch Amendment” after its author, the late Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, stated:
A right to abortion is not secured by this Constitution. The Congress and the several States shall have the concurrent power to restrict and prohibit abortions: Provided, That a law of a State which is more restrictive than a law of Congress shall govern.
In December 1981, the amendment passed the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution 4-0. Hatch, along with fellow subcommittee members, Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, South Carolina Republican Strom Thurmond, and Arizona Democratic Senator Dennis DeConcini, voted to approve the amendment. Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy abstained. The amendment was then handed up to the full Judiciary Committee, where it passed on March 10, 1982, by a vote of 10-7. Eight Republicans voted for the amendment, along with two Democrats: DeConcini, who voted for it in the subcommittee, and Joe Biden.
“I’m probably a victim, or a product, however you want to phrase it, of my background,” Biden said of the vote, adding that he was not sure he had a “right to impose” his personal moral and religious views on others and that the vote was “the single most difficult vote I’ve cast as a U.S. senator.” The amendment was reported to the full Senate in June, and placed on the calendar, but it was never brought to consideration and was withdrawn on September 15. A similar amendment was considered in the Senate in 1983, but Biden voted against it.
The 2019 article goes on to discuss Biden’s evolution on the issue, from his first term in the Senate in 1973, when he reportedly said he believed that the Supreme Court went “too far” in its decision in the Roe v. Wade case, until recently, when Biden told the Catholic magazine America: “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.”
Biden issued a statement Tuesday calling on lawmakers in Congress to protect abortion rights after a draft of an opinion in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was leaked to Politico. “[If] the Court does overturn Roe, it will fall on our nation’s elected officials at all levels of government to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Biden said in his statement. “And it will fall on voters to elect pro-choice officials this November. At the federal level, we will need more pro-choice Senators and a pro-choice majority in the House to adopt legislation that codifies Roe, which I will work to pass and sign into law.”