A collage of photos of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders

All the Rage

The Myth of the “Personally” Anti-Abortion Politician

You can’t trust a politician like Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, who either doesn’t believe in a woman’s right to choose or understand what’s at stake, to fight to protect 'Roe.'

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There is no such thing as a “personally” anti-abortion politician, especially not in 2019. The past few months have seen apocalyptic news hail down on the choice front: Total abortion bans, disguised as “fetal heartbeat” legislation, have landed in Georgia, in Alabama, in Missouri, in South Carolina, in so many places that this list must necessarily be incomplete, or it would take over the article. The bills would potentially criminalize not just abortion, but miscarriage, leading to mass incarceration of women who behaved “improperly” during their pregnancies; the most restrictive ban, Alabama, permits no exceptions even in cases of rape or incest. All of these bans are intended to trigger the challenge that will overturn Roe v. Wade, the downfall of which is certain at this point.

We are up against the wall, and people are going to start dying. Which makes it even more infuriating than usual that the Democratic frontrunner, the person who’s likely to be entrusted to get us out of this mess, is Joe freaking Biden.

Joe Biden’s feelings on abortion are more than well known. Speaking about Roe v. Wade in 1974, he said that “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.” In 1982, he voted to let states overturn Roe. Granted, some of this occurred over 40 years ago. But, though Biden’s rhetoric has been less extreme in recent years, his beliefs have not fundamentally shifted. He faithfully backed the Hyde Amendment—which prohibits patients from receiving federally funded abortion care, and puts abortion out of reach for many working-class and poor patients—until a few weeks ago. And it was in 2015 that Biden told an interviewer that, as a practicing Catholic, he believed that “abortion is always wrong.” Though Biden claimed he wouldn’t force that belief on others, he also agreed that people who want to ban abortion should have a home within the Democratic Party: “Absolutely, positively … and that’s been my position for as long as I’ve been engaged.”

You’re damn right it has been. That’s the problem. For decades now, Democrats and the wider left have endorsed the genteel fiction of “personal” anti-choice beliefs—a fig leaf claimed by everyone from socialist podcaster Elizabeth Bruenig to Clinton VP pick Tim Kaine—as if it were possible to separate personal belief from political principle. We have agreed to pretend that someone can believe abortion is murder, go to a church every week where s/he hears that abortion is sinful and depraved, and then go out in the light of day and enthusiastically advocate for free abortion on demand.

It simply doesn’t happen that way, and it never has. Invariably, when the chips are down, and abortion needs defending, all these “personally” anti-choice figures make the decision to “personally” not speak up. Even now, in the endgame, with Elizabeth Warren (once again) providing entire competently laid-out plans to codify Roe as federal law, Biden—the man who will probably get the job Warren is applying for — can’t manage to do anything but hop onto a popular Twitter hashtag with a single tweet about how bans are “wrong.”

Every single thing a politician does, says, or admits in public is political, even when he or she claims to be talking about “personal” belief. The fact is, if Joe Biden’s anti-choice beliefs were solely relevant to Joe Biden, we would never have heard about them. He would have kept quiet and done his job of protecting abortion access. He didn’t. We know, for a fact, that Joe Biden hates abortion and believes it is wrong, because he says so, frequently. His reasons are the same as any other politician’s reasons for expressing any other kind of view: Joe Biden wishes to empower, embolden and attract anti-choice voters, and has likely heeded the decades’ worth of messaging that ditching abortion rights is the only way for Democrats to regain white working-class men.

It’s not just a Biden problem. It was less than a week ago that Cheri Bustos, chairwoman of the DCCC, was caught hosting high-powered fundraisers for anti-choice Congressman Dan Lipinski — a man so deeply bigoted that he spoke at the March for Life about the necessity to “evangelize” anti-choice talking points among his fellow Democrats, and whose primary challenger, Marie Newman, is backed by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Nancy Pelosi has publicly argued that “of course” there is room for anti-choice Democrats, and that making abortion support non-negotiable would turn the Democrats into a “rubber-stamp party.”

The left is no refuge. Leaving aside the Bruenig problem—though the prominence and popularity of anti-choice pundits within the socialist left certainly sends a clear message about that movement’s priorities—Bernie Sanders, would-be scourge of centrist Democrats and the runner-up in the race behind Biden, has also worked to elect anti-choice Democrats, as he did in his notorious decision to endorse Nebraska’s Heath Mello, and also has cast abortion as a wedge issue that alienates Democrats from his beloved base of working-class white male voters. He also faces an even more serious problem, in that he seemingly doesn’t understand what abortion is or how it works, and can therefore be tricked, easily and repeatedly, into spreading anti-choice propaganda. At his FOX News town hall, he inadvertently agreed that women were requesting abortions “at the moment of birth.” This weekend, on Meet the Press, he accidentally said that the country was dealing with a plague of sex-selective abortions. “Are you in all concerned, though, about this idea that people may try to worry about the sex of a child, or essentially, are those types of restrictions on abortions something you’re open to?” asked Chuck Todd. “That, I mean, that’s a concern,” replied Sanders.

It is not a concern, in fact, because it isn’t happening. Nor are women abruptly deciding on abortion while in labor with a healthy baby. I do not believe that Sanders shares the personal hatred of abortion that motivates Biden. But let’s be clear: Bernie Sanders is very good at talking about the two or three issues he actually cares about. Abortion is not on that list, and he seemingly isn’t even motivated to learn the basics.

These are the guys we’ve got to count on. These are the guys we always have counted on, for decades now; at every election, feminists showed up and voted blue, not because we trusted our representatives to further our causes or advocate for our reproductive and sexual freedoms, but because, if the Republicans won, they would destroy those freedoms. Now, with reproductive autonomy actively being destroyed, we are reaping the consequences of all the times we trusted those men. We are seeing who shows up, and who doesn’t.

The fiction of “personal” anti-choice beliefs set us up for this betrayal; in fact, it was symptomatic of how eager the party was to betray us. We don’t trust someone to be anti-fascist if they “personally” hate Jews. We can’t trust someone to be pro-choice if they “personally” hate abortion. Anti-choicers should not be coddled or mollified or brought into progressive spaces in the name of “movement-building”; they should be driven from public life, quickly and mercilessly, just as other fascists are, because their propaganda is dangerous, it is contagious, and if it becomes the rule of law, it will kill women and trans people. This is not a debate, it is a war, and we are losing.

But with that loss, the Bidens of the world are losing the only leverage they had with feminist voters. I have shown up at voting booths, for most of my adult life, with one main goal in mind: Protecting Roe. I have supported a lot of men I didn’t care about, in the name of making that happen. When Roe falls, and I can do no more to protect it, that calculus changes. Certainly, there are a lot of outrages to care about in the Trump era, and in the general, vote blue no matter who is a good idea. But we are not in the general election now. Joe Biden may be “personally” anti-choice, but I’m “personally” anti–Joe Biden. He just has to hope that I’m better than he is at keeping my “personal” feelings to myself.

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