At the vice presidential debate on Wednesday, October 7, it was inevitable that the topic of abortion would come up. Following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and with just a few weeks to go until the election, the Trump administration nominated judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill her seat on the bench. Barrett—a devout, conservative Catholic—has called abortion “always immoral.” And Pence, who defended the nomination on the debate stage, has made it clear that he is anti-choice. Given that Barrett’s appointment drew immediate criticism from women’s rights groups, it was understandable that moderator Susan Page pressed Pence to address the future of Roe v. Wade if Barrett is confirmed.
But when asked about where he stood on the landmark case, which is the law of the land, Pence stated: “I couldn’t be more proud to serve as vice president to a president who stands without apology for the sanctity of human life. I’m pro-life. I don’t apologize for it.” He then added, “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris support taxpayer funding of abortion all the way up to the moment of birth.”
Let’s take a moment to recognize: This statement is untrue. And the New York Times fact-checkers agree, calling Pence’s statement “false.”
As NPR recently explained, Biden has never “explicitly expressed support for late-term abortions.” Rather, Biden has said he wants to codify Roe v. Wade and add federal funding to Planned Parenthood, which, besides providing many other services, also helps some women gain access to abortions.
For a bit of a political history lesson, NPR further explained that in the Roe decision, the Supreme Court “generally found that women have a right to an abortion and limited the ability of states to restrict access to the procedure, particularly in the earlier stages of pregnancy.” Importantly, the Court also said women should have access to the medical procedure after 24 weeks if her life or health is at risk.
For what it’s worth, Biden hasn’t always been a fervent supporter of a women’s right to choose. Biden wrote in his 2007 book Promises to Keep that he is “personally opposed to abortion.” However, he added, he didn’t believe he had the “right to impose my view on the rest of society.” He also did not believe the federal government should pay for abortions.
“I do not vote for funding for abortion,” Biden said in 2006, according to CNN. “I voted against partial birth abortion—to limit it—and I vote for no restrictions on a woman’s right to be able to have an abortion under Roe v. Wade. And, so I am—I made everybody angry. I made the right-to-life people angry because I won’t support a constitutional amendment or limitations on a woman’s right to exercise her constitutional right as defined by Roe v. Wade. And I’ve made the groups—the women’s groups and others—very angry because I won’t support public funding and I won’t support partial birth abortion.”
But in the time since and as this presidential race heated up, it appears Biden wants to do what he can to protect the law, even if Barrett is appointed to the court. During the primaries, he reversed his stance on the Hyde Amendment, opting to support the use of federal dollars to fund abortion for those who can’t afford it. And in his first presidential debate of the 2020 general election season, Biden said of Barrett, “We don’t know exactly what she will do, although the expectation is that she may very well move to [overrule] Roe. And the only thing, the only responsible response to that would be to pass legislation making Roe the law of the land. That’s what I would do.”
Biden also states on his own website his health plan includes expanding access to contraception and protecting the constitutional right to an abortion.
“The Affordable Care Act made historic progress by ensuring access to free preventive care, including contraception. The Biden Plan will build on that progress,” the website states. “Vice President Biden supports repealing the Hyde Amendment because health care is a right that should not be dependent on one’s zip code or income. And the public option will cover contraception and a woman’s constitutional right to choose.”
It’s also important to note, late-term abortions are exceedingly rare. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, just 1% of abortions occur after 21 weeks of pregnancy.
As for Harris, she answered the question a bit more succinctly during the vice presidential debate stating: “I will always fight for a woman’s right to make a decision about her own body. It should be her decision and not that of Donald Trump and the vice president, Michael Pence.”