Previewing How a Biden Administration Would Act on Abortion

The presumptive president-elect’s legislative priorities could be stalled by a GOP-controlled Senate, but a Biden presidency could move swiftly in terms of pro-abortion appointments and executive actions.

Vice President Joe Biden addresses a campaign rally at Hiatt Middle School in Des Moines, Iowa, on Feb. 2.
Vice President Joe Biden addresses a campaign rally at Hiatt Middle School in Des Moines, Iowa, on Feb. 2. (photo: Phil Roeder / Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON — On the campaign trail, presumptive President-Elect Joe Biden supported largely unrestricted, taxpayer-funded abortion. He was “proud” to accept the endorsement of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider and he has repeatedly pledged to enact the abortion lobby’s agenda. 

But while Biden supports many pro-abortion legislative proposals, it is unclear whether he will have the support of Congress as the GOP looks likely to retain control of the Senate following two special elections in Georgia. However, there are several things Biden is expected to act on quickly, in his executive role, to reverse the Trump administration’s pro-life policies.

If Democrats gain control following the January special elections in Georgia, the Biden administration would be empowered to tackle its legislative priorities that include abolishing the Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer-funded abortion, and codifying Roe v. Wade. Biden would also be able to expand health-care coverage to “cover contraception and a woman’s constitutional right to choose” which is a stated goal of his health-care plan. 

Democratic control of the Senate is also key for any attempt to change the makeup of the Supreme Court, something that would have a huge impact on pro-life efforts. 

Biden has been unwilling to say whether or not he would attempt to pack the court following Trump’s appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, but many vocal Democrats, including Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez of New York, have demanded this because of their concern that the Supreme Court might now be poised to strike down its 1973 Roe v. Wade


Immediate Actions

Regardless of Senate control, a Biden administration will take immediate action to end two pro-life policies that the Trump administration instituted: the expanded Mexico City Policy that bars federal funding for abortion overseas, and the partial domestic defunding of Planned Parenthood by barring abortion providers from Title X family planning funds. Biden has pledged to reverse both of these policies.

Additionally, Biden has promised to reinstate an Obama-era rule, rescinded by President Trump in 2017, specifying “that states cannot refuse Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood and other providers that refer for abortions or provide related information.” The rule barred any recipient of Title X funding from excluding potential funding recipients, notably including abortion providers, “for reasons other than its ability to provide Title X services.” Currently, Arkansas is the only state that has defunded Planned Parenthood through Medicaid although other states have attempted to follow suit, including South Carolina.

Another feature of Biden’s health-care proposal is his promise to remove the Trump administration’s conscience protections in Obamacare exempting religious organizations, like the Little Sisters of the Poor, from the provision of contraceptives, abortifacient drugs and sterilizations in their employees’ health insurance plans.  

Jacqueline Ayers, vice president of government relations and public policy for Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told The Hill, “we think many of these issues actually could be addressed day one, in an executive order that explicitly talks about the new administration's commitment to sexual reproductive health care.”


Pro-Abortion Appointments 

Biden is also expected to strengthen support for abortion through key appointments and has already named a few individuals with ties to the abortion industry to powerful posts in his administration. 

Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff during his time as vice president and now his presumptive chief of staff, has advocated for abortion in the past. He wrote in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed that “every woman’s rights are at risk if Roe is overturned.” He tweeted last year about “the need to protect reproductive freedom through the courts and judicial nominations” and also described himself as a “soldier” in the army of Ilyse Hogue, president of the abortion advocacy group NARAL. 

Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., plans to leave Congress and join the future Biden White House as a senior adviser and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. He was an abortion advocate in the House and a cosponsor of the “Women’s Health Protection Act,” which would end virtually all state limits on abortions, including waiting periods and 20-week bans. 

Jen O’Malley Dillon, Biden’s presumptive deputy chief of staff, co-founded a marketing firm which has Planned Parenthood as a client.


Harris’ Influence

Biden’s running mate, presumptive Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, has also advocated for pro-abortion priorities during her time on the campaign trail in the Democratic primary. As vice president, she would have the influence to act on these priorities.   

As California’s attorney general, Harris was the co-sponsor of a 2015 law requiring pro-life pregnancy centers in California to “disseminate to clients” a message promoting public programs with “free or low-cost access” to abortion and contraceptive services. The law resulted in a lawsuit and ultimately a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2018 that determined it violated the First Amendment.

Harris said last year that “states that have a history of passing legislation designed to prevent or limit women’s access to reproductive health care will be required to come before my Department of Justice. Until we determine their laws are constitutional, they will not take effect.” She could advise Biden to take the same approach.


‘Difficult and Complex Situation’

Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, commented at the bishops’ Fall General Assembly Tuesday that Biden has “given us reason to believe that he will support policies that are against some fundamental values that we hold dear as Catholics. These policies include: the repeal of the Hyde Amendment and the preservation of Roe vs. Wade. Both of these policies undermine our preeminent priority of the elimination of abortion.” 

“This is a difficult and complex situation,” Archbishop Gomez told the bishops. “In order to help us to navigate it, [the bishops’ conference] will appoint a working group, chaired by Archbishop [Allen] Vigneron and consisting of the chairmen of the committees responsible for the policy areas at stake, as well as the committee on doctrine and communications.”