During an ABC News Townhall interview on October 15, 2020 — shortly before the election — Joe Biden was discussing taxes with George Stephanopoulos when he insisted that he would “have to see” if he “had the votes” before he would implement his somewhat controversial economic recovery plan.
“I have this strange notion,” then-Vice President Joe Biden told ABC News’s Stephanopoulos. “We are a democracy… some of my Republican friends and some of my Democratic friends even occasionally say, ‘Well, if you can’t get the votes, by executive order you’re going to do something.” He went on to note there are “Things you can’t do by executive order unless you’re a dictator. We’re a democracy. We need consensus.”
But now that Joe Biden is president, it appears that his views on the use of executive orders have taken a 180-degree turn. In his first week as president alone, he signed dozens of executive orders and issued numerous memoranda, in order to reverse or rescind Trump Administration actions on matters from climate change to immigration to abortion funding.
Definitions are a helpful place to begin when discussing the president’s actions. An “executive order” (sometimes referred to simply as an “EO”) is an official directive of the President. While an EO enjoys the “force of law” it does not require the prior approval of Congress, even though it impacts the operations of the federal government. Or as Biden put it during the town hall referenced above, it doesn’t require “consensus.”
A “memorandum” is the means by which the president then uses his executive authority to instruct federal departments and agencies to either change or institute policy preferences of his administration.
Most troubling for Catholics, of course, were President Biden’s actions this week in regarding to abortion funding, both domestically and overseas. On Jan. 28, the day before the national March for Life, President Biden issued an executive order and memorandum reversing the Mexico City Policy put in place in 2017 by President Trump. First enacted under President Ronald Reagan, the Mexico City Policy keeps U.S. foreign aid monies out of the coffers of organizations that provide or refer for abortions. When the Mexico City Policy is in place, it is an assurance to American taxpayers that their tax dollars are not used to fund abortion-promoting groups overseas.
As a direct result of Biden’s decision, massive amounts of federal funding once again will flow indiscriminately to foreign-aid groups such as Planned Parenthood International and similar organizations whose chief aim is to profit from an increased number of abortions around the globe, including in countries that reject abortion in law. Although disappointed that the president didn’t reinstate the Mexico City policy “on day one,” his actions were nonetheless praised by Amanda Ussak, the Director of International Programs for the deceptively named pro-abortion organization “Catholics for Choice,” which, The Washington Post reported, “works with faith-based groups pushing to expand abortion access, with a focus on heavily Catholic countries such as Argentina, Malta and Poland.”
In the same memorandum, President Biden also directed the director of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure that grantees performing and promoting abortion have their funding restored under Title X (a component of the Public Health Services Act that provides funding for family planning services for low-income women). Under the Trump administration, programs that referred women to outside providers of abortion were not eligible for Title X grants, nor were any agencies who performed abortions along with “family planning” services. It is important to note that the previous Trump Administration order was not a ban on funding entire organizations. For example, Planned Parenthood had some clinics that performed abortions and some that did not. But the clinics that did not were getting Title X funds, while continuing to do abortion referrals to their clinics that did. The Trump order had closed that loophole, causing Planned Parenthood to abandon the Title X program rather than rework its priorities.
In a joint statement from the chairmen of both the Committee on International Justice and Peace and the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Bishop David Malloy of Rockford and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas noted that, “It is grievous that one of President Biden’s first official acts actively promotes the destruction of human lives in developing nations. This Executive Order is antithetical to reason, violates human dignity, and is incompatible with Catholic teaching. We and our brother bishops strongly oppose this action. We urge the President to use his office for good, prioritizing the most vulnerable, including unborn children. As the largest non-government health care provider in the world, the Catholic Church stands ready to work with him and his administration to promote global women’s health in a manner that furthers integral human development, safeguarding innate human rights and the dignity of every human life, beginning in the womb.”
Poignantly, representatives from the many different African nations across the continent begged President Biden not to send U.S. dollars to Africa to fund groups that promote and provide abortion, which a majority of the African people, no matter their country, reject. The pro-life African group Culture of Life Africa released a video, asking President Biden not to support abortion-providing groups in African nations. Abortion is, in fact, so inconsistent and unthinkable that many national African languages do not even have a word for “abortion” in their vocabularies.
During President Biden’s inaugural address, he said, “Many centuries ago, St. Augustine, a saint of my church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love. What are the common objects we love that define us as Americans?
I think I know: Opportunity.
And, yes, the truth.
Missing from his list? Life.
Love for human life at all stages, both here and in all places of abroad where American money and aid has influence, should be the first “common object” listed, as it is the one that truly unites us all. None of the other objects matter if a person is not living to enjoy any of them. Does President Biden really want to leave a legacy that said, “Some lives are less valuable than others? And a person inconveniently conceived has no value but what another assigns?” I hope not.
Mary FioRito is the Cardinal Francis George Fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center and the deNicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame.