Candidate Position Paper: Joe Biden and John Delaney on Abortion
The upcoming 2020 election in the U.S. features many candidates with widely varying views and perspectives concerning different issues of public policy. One of these issues is abortion, which continues to be a controversial topic owing to the implications of induced abortion on the rights of women and unborn children and related safety issues from philosophical, moral, religious, legal, and ethical perspectives. The fundamental issue in the debate on induced abortion concerns the dilemma that results from conflict between the mother’s and the unborn child’s interests/rights, which produces a dilemma about the morality of intentional termination of a pregnancy. Two candidates fighting for the Democratic Presidential nomination in the upcoming election, and who have opposing views on abortion, are former Vice-President Joe Biden and John Delaney, a former U.S. Representative for a congressional district in Maryland. This paper supports Delaney’s view that abortion needs public funding to allow women to access and utilize safe and adequate healthcare services before, during, and following abortion and address risks for their wellbeing and health that the lack of such services would cause. It argues that funding and supporting abortion is a proactive measure to promote the health, safety, and wellbeing of women through the prevention of the long-term complications and maternal deaths that result from unsafe abortions, thereby promoting overall population health. The lack of public funding would promote illegal and unregulated abortion facilities and services that would promote health, safety, and wellbeing risks for women.
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Abortion is ending a pregnancy by expelling the fetus before it attains the capacity to live on its own outside the mother’s body. It could happen unexpectedly without intervention (called a miscarriage), but when induced, abortion raises important issues about unborn children and women’s interests/rights and women’s wellbeing and safety. The reasons for induced abortion differ widely in society, and they include the inability to support a child, domestic violence, feelings that one is too young to be a mother, and societal pressure (stigmatization, etc.). The origins of arguments in ethics, philosophy, religion, law, and morality concerning abortion are the sanctity/value of human life and unborn children and women’s interests/rights (BBC para.9-10). Women’s rights groups argue that women have a right to their bodies and their bodies’ use, especially because their bodies bear the burden of carrying and sustaining the unborn and related consequences, such as interference with their careers. On the other hand, critics of abortion argue that unborn children have rights to life and a future, such that abortion represents a violation of these rights. Anti-abortionists consider the fetus as a person with rights to live, such that abortion is essentially murder, while pro-abortionists argue for women’s reproductive rights, essentially the right to decide whether to maintain a pregnancy or not. Pro and anti-abortion viewpoints revolve around the moral permissibility of deliberate abortion and reasoning for policies/laws that permit or restrict the practice. They focus on the dilemma of unborn children and women’s interests/rights and the morality of considered abortion (BBC para.9-12). In this context, anti-abortionists favor more expansive restrictions on abortion in law, focusing on a “pro-life” outlook, while pro-abortionists favor removal of restrictions on abortion in law, focusing on a “pro-choice” outlook.
Joe Biden supports the rights of women to abortion, thereby displaying a pro-choice perspective on the issue. Biden’s support for abortion rights is unequivocal; he argues that Congress has a responsibility to act to guarantee these rights. Biden accepts the religious rule that abortion is immoral and inappropriate on a personal level, acknowledging the Catholic view that life starts at conception, but considers it inappropriate on a public level. Nonetheless, Biden disapproves of public funding for abortion, arguing that such a measure would “impose a view”. While Biden acknowledges that women have a right to choose whether or not to keep a pregnancy, he holds that federal funding for abortion is inappropriate (OnTheIssues para.4). This position rests on the argument that the provision of abortion facilities and services involves formal and organized support for the practice. While women have the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy, this choice ought to remain a private affair (a personal decision) that does not involve a responsibility on a public level. Funding of the practice by the government would involve a public responsibility and formal public and government support of the practice, which Biden believes would offer the wrong message about abortion in terms of imposing a view about its appropriateness.
Like Biden, Delaney adopts a pro-choice position, supporting the rights of women to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. He believes in the liberty of women to choose whether or not to maintain a pregnancy. Delaney argues about the importance of separating the church and its teachings from the state and its policies and actions, which is similar to Biden’s position that the church’s teachings are applicable on a personal level, rather than on a public level. Delaney considers himself pro-choice, thereby portraying himself as a strict pro-abortionist in comparison with Biden’s more moderate views about the issue. He supports funding by the government for abortion and considers the provision of birth control by the church as appropriate (OnTheIssues para.14). In particular, Delaney considers funding for abortion by the government as a policy or measure that serves to avoid discrimination against poor women.
This analysis illustrates that while both Biden and Delaney are pro-abortionists (pro-choice), their views about the issue differ in terms of the intensity of their positions and attitudes. While Delaney’s views about abortion are extremely supportive of the interests and rights of women to decide whether or not to maintain their pregnancies to term, Biden displays more moderate views. In particular, a critical area of difference in their views concerns the idea of public (government) funding for abortion. While Delaney considers the provision of abortion facilities and services a public responsibility, such that funding by the government is appropriate, Biden considers such funding inappropriate. The key point in Biden’s opposition to public funding is that such action would involve imposing a view about the appropriateness of abortion as a practice. Nonetheless, despite perceptions that the government’s funding of the practice would be “supporting” it, it is important to note that such funding by the government is important to ensure the safety, adequacy, and wellbeing of women. Whether or not the government “supports” the practice is unlikely to deter it. The World Health Organization (para.1) notes that between 2010 and 2014, an average of 56m induced abortions occurred each year worldwide, including 25m unsafe abortions in societies without government support for abortion services. When governments do not support abortion, unsafe abortions prevail, leading to long-term complications in women’s reproductive health and unnecessary, preventable maternal deaths. Haddad and Nawal observe that without government support for abortion, clandestine abortions occur, with untrained individuals or women themselves performing them (123). Health complications relating to unsafe abortions include internal organ injuries, bowel resections, recto-vaginal and vesicovaginal fistulas (hence stool and urinary incontinence), poor wound healing, and infertility.
Over the short term, the burden of these consequences of unsafe abortions lies with the women and their families. Nonetheless, in the longer term, the burden lies with the public health system because each woman hospitalized for emergency care following an abortion requires and uses up healthcare resources (Haddad and Nawal 123). This means that care for women who have undergone unsafe abortions utilizes healthcare resources that could have applied to address the health needs of other patients.
This assessment shows the need for governments and societies to take responsibility for the provision of abortion services. Funding and supporting abortion essentially constitutes a proactive measure to promote the health, safety, and wellbeing of women through prevention of the long-term complications and maternal deaths that result from unsafe abortions and hence promote overall population health. The fact that the burden of the consequences of unsafe abortions lies with the public healthcare system justifies the need for governments to fund abortion services as a measure to mitigate this burden and promote the adequacy and value of healthcare resources for population health. Abortion needs public funding to allow women to access and utilize safe and adequate healthcare services prior to, during, and following abortion and address risks for their wellbeing and health that the lack of such services would cause. The lack of public funding would promote illegal and unregulated abortion facilities and services that would promote health, safety, and wellbeing risks for women.
“OnTheIssues: Every Political Leader on Every Issue”. OnTheIssues, 2018.
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Introduction to the Abortion Debate. BBC Ethics Guide, 2014.
Haddad, Lisa, and Nour, Nawal. Unsafe Abortion: Unnecessary Maternal Mortality. Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology vol.2, no.2, 2009, pp.122-126.
World Health Organization (WHO). Preventing Unsafe Abortions. WHO Factsheet, June 26, 2019.