Democrats in recent years have migrated drastically leftward on the abortion issue, sweeping President Biden along with them.
Mr. Biden is among a group of veteran Democratic lawmakers who have gravitated toward a near-universal opposition to abortion bans, abandoning past opposition to ending pregnancies and ditching terminology coined three decades ago by President Clinton, who said the procedure should be “safe, legal and rare.”
Mr. Biden, who once voted to criminalize some abortion procedures and as recently as 2019 opposed any federal funding for abortion, has shifted his position over the past two decades to better align himself with the most liberal wing of his party. He has now pledged to sign legislation that would effectively legalize abortion up until birth.
Other once-moderate Democrats also have repositioned themselves on abortion.
Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, who was considered among the most pro-life Democrats in Congress, announced Tuesday that he plans to vote a second time for the Senate legislation that would legalize abortion up until birth.
Mr. Casey was among nearly all Democrats who voted for the same bill in March.
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It marks a shift leftward for Mr. Casey. Along with Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat with a pro-life voting record, he voted in 2019 with the Republican majority to advance a bill banning abortions beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The Democratic measure was defeated by a vote of 49-51, far short of the 60-vote Senate threshold required to advance legislation. Democrats control 50 votes, and no Republican has pledged to support the bill so far. Mr. Manchin was the only Democrat to vote with Republicans.
Before the vote, House Democratic women crossed the Capitol to the Senate, chanting “My body, my decision.”
Mr. Casey justified his support for the bill in a statement that said “the circumstances around the entire debate on abortion have changed” in light of a leaked draft opinion of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide.
Republicans, Mr. Casey warned, are moving to enact a federal six-week ban on abortion if they win back the majority in November.
“The real question of the moment is, do you support a categorical ban on abortion?” Mr. Casey said. “During my time in office I have never voted for, nor do I support, such a ban.”
University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato said the political realignment on abortion isn’t just among Democrats. The moderate wing of the Republican Party has nearly vanished when it comes to abortion.
In the Senate, only two Republicans, Susan M. Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, call themselves pro-choice.
“The party polarization of ideology and issues is nearly complete,” Mr. Sabato said. “It is very difficult, if not impossible, to be the leader of the Democratic Party without embracing abortion rights. Biden has had religious qualms about abortion for decades and doesn’t even like to say the word abortion, yet he has evolved into a staunchly pro-abortion rights President because politically, there is no realistic alternative. The opposite is true on the Republican side. It is impossible to imagine a pro-abortion rights GOP president. Donald Trump, once pro-abortion rights, served in the White House as so anti-abortion rights that he chose three Supreme Court justices in good part because he believed they were ready to overturn Roe. Apparently he was right.”
Mr. Biden has been prodded to the left by the liberal base of the party, which has increasingly demanded party lawmakers take a stronger position in defense of abortion in the wake of increasing red state restrictions on the procedure and the looming threat of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion.
Now that the high court appears poised to overturn the landmark ruling and send the decision back to the states, according to a leak of Justice Alito’s draft of the majority decision, Mr. Biden, a practicing Roman Catholic who once said an abortion should not be solely decided by a pregnant woman, is now siding with the most liberal faction of his party, even refusing through his press secretary to oppose abortion in the ninth months of pregnancy.
“Joe Biden has called himself ‘personally pro-life’ for decades, citing his Catholic faith, even as he has supported legal abortion and Roe v. Wade,” Alexandra DeSanctis, a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told The Washington Times. “But since running for president in 2020, he has become even more extreme, entirely embracing the Democratic Party’s radical stance on abortion.”
Mr. Biden’s position on abortion has evolved dramatically over the past four decades. In 1982, he voted in the Senate Judiciary Committee to advance a constitutional amendment that would overturn Roe and send the decision back to the states. Fifteen years later, Mr. Biden voted to prohibit partial-birth abortions except in cases to save the life of the mother. The president also consistently supported the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortions, and he voted to block federal employees from using government health insurance for most abortions.
As late as 2015, Mr. Biden said abortion “is always wrong” under Catholic doctrine and he accepted the church’s view as well as the belief that human life begins at conception.
Less than two years into his presidency, Mr. Biden has abandoned every one of his pro-life positions, including his support of the Hyde Amendment, which he reversed during his presidential campaign in 2019 under pressure from the party’s liberal base.
After the Alito draft leak on May 3, Mr. Biden responded in a press gaggle with reporters. He called the decision “radical” and declared that “a women’s right to choose is fundamental.”
In a press conference on May 5, White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to say whether Mr. Biden now supports any limits at all on abortion.
“The president’s view is that women should be able to make choices about their own health care,” Ms. Psaki said.
Mr. Biden has pledged to sign into law a pending bill in the Senate that would codify the 1973 Roe decision and go much further, overstepping state restrictions and legalizing abortion to the point of viability, even up until birth if a doctor deems the procedure is necessary.
Despite the Democratic Party’s shift on abortion, some liberal activists are still not satisfied and say lawmakers need to go further. They accuse Mr. Biden and Democratic leaders of avoiding the term “abortion” when they talk about the issue and blame the party for failing to take action to legalize abortion while they control the White House and majorities in Congress.
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, some states will ban abortion after six weeks, which will make it difficult for many women to obtain the procedure.
Several states have enacted laws banning abortion after six weeks or 15 weeks of pregnancy. So far, courts in those states have blocked the laws from taking effect with the exception of Texas, which has enacted a six-week ban after the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the law.
Abortion rights activists have been protesting all week outside the homes of the Supreme Court justices who have reportedly voted in secret to overturn the 1973 law.
They aren’t sparing the Democrats.
Activists from the abortion group Ruth Sent Us protested in front of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home, Fox News reported. They accused her of not doing enough to stop the looming high court ruling and criticized her for declaring in 2017 that abortion should “not be a litmus test” for her party.
Earlier, Mrs. Pelosi joined other top Democrats, including Mr. Biden, in sanctioning the protests that have taken place or are planned in front of the homes of Justices Alito, Brett M. Kavanaugh, Neil M. Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett.
“While we have seen and heard extraordinary anguish in our communities, we have been moved by how so many have channeled their righteous anger into meaningful action,” Mrs. Pelosi wrote to fellow Democrats this week. “Planning to march and mobilize to make their voices heard.”