Biden administration marks Roe anniversary with new abortion initiatives

WASHINGTON (OSV News) -- On the 51st anniversary of the now-overturned Roe v. Wade decision, President Joe Biden called for the restoration of Roe in federal law, and pledged his administration would take new steps to "protect access to safe and legal medication abortion."

Biden, the second Catholic president in U.S. history, drew a rebuke for his remarks from the chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia.

"On the somber anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that unleashed 50 years of abortion-on-demand on our country," the bishop told OSV News in a Jan. 23 statement, "the Biden-Harris Administration reaffirmed their single-minded extremism on abortion -- rather than committing real help to mothers and their unborn children."

"We are all called to serve every mother in need and every child in the womb with our love and support while also advocating for life-affirming policies that assist mothers and protect their vulnerable unborn children," Bishop Burbidge said.

In a statement Jan. 22, Biden said, "Fifty-one years ago today, the Supreme Court recognized a woman's constitutional right to make deeply personal decisions with her doctor -- free from the interference of politicians."

"Then, a year and a half ago, the Court made the extreme decision to overturn Roe and take away a constitutional right," Biden said, asserting that "tens of millions of women now live in states with extreme and dangerous abortion bans.

"Because of Republican elected officials, women's health and lives are at risk," he said. "In states across the country, women are being turned away from emergency rooms, forced to go to court to seek permission for the medical attention they need, and made to travel hundreds of miles for health care."

Biden argued voters have rejected these laws at the ballot box. Since the Supreme Court's June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision that reversed Roe, voters in Ohio, California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Vermont and Kansas either rejected new limitations on abortion or expanded legal protections for it.

"On this day and every day, Vice President Harris and I are fighting to protect women's reproductive freedom against Republicans officials' dangerous, extreme, and out-of-touch agenda," Biden said. "We stand with the vast majority of Americans who support a woman's right to choose, and continue to call on Congress to restore the protections of Roe in federal law once and for all."

The Catholic Church opposes abortion, outlining its teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that human life "must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception"; because abortion takes the life of an already conceived child, it is "gravely contrary to the moral law."

At the same time, Catholic leaders have called for policies and actions to support women and families facing unplanned pregnancies. The U.S. bishops' have called on Catholic parishes to join the "Walking with Moms in Need" initiative and have advocated for changes to the U.S. child tax credit so that mothers could retroactively apply the credit to the tax year they were pregnant prior to giving birth.

Biden also convened key members of his Cabinet for a meeting on the subject of abortion access the same day, which the White House said would report on "ongoing implementation" of directives Biden issued on abortion and contraception in 2023 for the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, including his presidential memorandum "to consider further efforts to protect access to medication abortion."

The U.S. Supreme Court in December took up its first major abortion case post-Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization -- the decision that overturned Roe and its related abortion precedents -- concerning a challenge to mifepristone, an abortion-inducing drug. A decision is expected next summer in the midst of the 2024 presidential election.

Meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris has embarked on her national "Fight for Reproductive Freedoms" tour with remarks in Wisconsin. Harris said that "now on the 51st anniversary of Roe, we speak of it in the past tense."

"In the last 19 months, in states across our nation, extremists have proposed and passed laws that criminalize doctors and punish women; laws that threaten doctors and nurses with prison time, even for life, simply for providing healthcare; laws that, in some states, make no exception, even for rape and incest," Harris said Jan. 22.

The organization SBA Pro-Life America pushed back against the claims Harris made on her "Fight for Reproductive Freedoms" her tour calling them "myths" and saying that the administration's maximalist position on abortion is out-of-step with restrictions that the American mainstream favors.

Emily Erin Davis, SBA Pro-Life America's vice president of communications, said in a statement, "Abortion is Biden's number one campaign issue and groups on the Left are already promising to spend at least $140 million to defeat pro-life candidates but even some media observers don't believe it is their silver bullet."

"Most women who've had abortions would've rather kept their child if they had financial or emotional support," Davis said. "So why is the Biden administration making abortion their central focus? In this economy, they should be focusing on providing mothers of unplanned pregnancies with the financial and physical resources they're desperately seeking. We must serve mothers and save children."

On Jan. 23, the day of the New Hampshire primary, Harris appeared with Biden in Manassas, Virginia, for a campaign rally focused on "reproductive freedom." Joined by their spouses, they advocated for codifying Roe into law.

The rally prompted a response from Bishop Burbidge as head of the Arlington Diocese, which includes Manassas. He noted the event "took place just four miles from the Manassas Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic," where the diocesan Catholic Charities agency "offers free prenatal care to pregnant women in need and their unborn children."

In the year after the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe, the Arlington Diocese "delivered $877,000 in free medical care to more than 1,000 women," Bishop Burbidge said in statement released by the diocese. "The diocese also provided rent and utilities assistance, nearly 400,000 diapers, and 4,000 cans of formula to families in need."

Biden "has made abortion the centerpiece of his campaign," Bishop Burbidge said. "It is incredibly devastating to know President Biden would place 'choice' over his sacred duty to protect life. ... Taking the life of an innocent child is never a 'choice.' Women who are facing unexpected or difficult pregnancies deserve assistance that affirms and supports life -- not destroy it."

"Abortion remains the preeminent civil rights issue of our time," Bishop Burbidge said. Echoing his statement to OSV News, he said the Arlington Diocese and "the entire pro-life movement will remain steadfast in ensuring parents facing unexpected or challenging pregnancies have the support they need to choose life for their unborn children."

- - - Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @kgscanlon.