How Joe Biden Struggled with Abortion Rights for Decades

When Republicans began introducing legislation in the 1990s that would outlaw a rare abortion procedure they termed “partial-birth abortion,” Mr. Biden emerged as a reliable ally. He voted for the ban, and then against efforts by President Clinton to veto the legislation in 1996 and 1998.

Those proposals did not prohibit a wide enough range of procedures, he argued in a speech on the Senate floor in 1997.

“It did not, as I would have liked, ban all post-viability abortions,” he said, backing a proposal by Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic majority leader, that would include an exception if the mother’s health was at risk. “I was and still am concerned that in banning on partial-birth abortions, we do not go far enough.”

In 2003, he backed a third ban that included no exception for the health of the mother, sponsored by Senator Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania. That law moved through the courts for several years before being upheld by the Supreme Court in April 2007.

By that point in his career, Mr. Biden was running for president for a second time against Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, both of whom had voted against bans of the procedure. Mr. Biden cast himself as a strong supporter of abortion rights and criticized the court’s ruling as “paternalistic,” worrying that it could be a step toward overturning Roe.

“I was 29 years old when I came to the U.S. Senate, and I have learned a lot,” he said in a 2007 interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Look, I’m a practicing Catholic, and it is the biggest dilemma for me in terms of comporting my religious and cultural views with my political responsibility.”

When Mr. Obama picked him as vice president more than a year later, some abortion rights advocates worried about Mr. Biden’s record. But they felt confident that Mr. Obama’s more liberal views on the issue would prevail, recalled Kate Michelman, a former leader of Naral.

“Joe Biden continued his evolution on the issue under Obama. He got there,” she said. “I can’t say for absolute, 100 percent, but I would trust him as president to protect and defend a women’s right to choose.”