White House dismisses question about conflict between Biden's Catholic faith and support for abortion rights

WASHINGTON — When a reporter asked at a White House press briefing on Thursday how President Biden reconciled his Catholic faith with his support for legal abortion, press secretary Jen Psaki discounted any notion of an ideological conflict.

“He believes that it’s a woman’s right, it’s a woman’s body — and it’s her choice,” Psaki said.

The male reporter persisted. Psaki, who generally has good relations with journalists, suddenly indicated she’d had enough.

“I know you’ve never faced those choices,” she said sharply. “Nor have you ever been pregnant."

It was a rare moment of acrimony in a White House press briefing room that has largely reverted to pre-Trump mores of civility.

Jen Psaki
White House press secretary Jen Psaki at the White House on Thursday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

More than that, though, the brief but telling exchange was indicative of how fraught the issue of reproductive rights is to the nation’s second Catholic president (John F. Kennedy was the first). The issue took center stage this week with a restrictive new Texas law that banned most abortions in the state.

The Supreme Court declined to block the new law, which prohibits abortions around six weeks — before many women even know they are pregnant. The law has a unique enforcement mechanism, deputizing private citizens to bring lawsuits in the state court system against anyone involved in such an abortion.

The White House blasted the Supreme Court’s decision, issuing a Thursday statement calling it an “unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights” that would have a “devastating impact.”

Pro-choice protesters
Pro-abortion-rights protesters perform outside the Texas state Capitol in Austin on Wednesday. (Sergio Flores for the Washington Post via Getty Images)

Progressives are concerned that other states could model their own anti-abortion laws after the one just passed in Texas, circumventing the Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nearly a half-century ago.

“Of course we’re worried,” Psaki said of that possibility. The White House has said it is looking for ways to protect the rights allowed by the Roe ruling, though it provided no details about how it may do so.

Biden’s support for abortion rights has made him anathema to conservative Catholics. In June, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted in favor of drafting a resolution that would rebuke Catholic officials who support abortion rights and continue to seek Communion. Biden was clearly the target of the vote, with one bishop charging him with advancing “the most radical pro-abortion agenda in history.”

Joe Biden
President Biden after attending Mass in Wilmington, Del., in July (Patrick Semansky/AP)


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