“Conservative evangelical Christians in the United States are President Donald Trump’s most staunch supporters, despite the fact that the president is a serial adulterer who has been accused by multiple women of sexual assault and who regularly deploys racist attacks on political opponents. A Washington Post profile of Trump-loving evangelicals shows that many of them felt they were under assault by former President Barack Obama — and one of them pointed to the Obama White House lighting up in rainbow colors in 2015 to celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing LGBT marriage.”*
Numbers 5:23-27 (abortion)
In the clash over Robert H. Bork’s nomination, Joe Biden’s moderate instincts defined a winning strategy.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. was on the brink of victory, but he was unsatisfied.
Mr. Biden, the 44-year-old chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was poised to watch his colleagues reject President Ronald Reagan’s formidable nominee to the Supreme Court, Robert H. Bork. The vote was unlikely to be close. Yet Mr. Biden was hovering in the Senate chamber, plying Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, a Republican of modestly conservative politics and regal bearing, with arguments about Bork’s record.
Rejecting a Supreme Court nominee was an extraordinary act of defiance, and Mr. Biden did not want a narrow vote that could look like an act of raw partisan politics.
“We already had Bork beat,” said Mark Gitenstein, who was then chief counsel to Mr. Biden’s committee. “But Biden really wanted to get Warner because he had such stature.”
Mr. Biden’s entreaties prevailed: Mr. Warner became one of 58 senators to vote against Bork, and one of six Republicans.
The Senate’s resounding rejection of Judge Bork in the fall of 1987 was a turning point, the first time it spurned a nominee to the high court for primarily ideological reasons. The vote ensured that the court’s swing seat would not go to a man with a long history of criticizing rulings on the rights of African-Americans and women. It also enraged a generation of conservatives and transformed the judge’s name into an ominous verb: Fearful of getting “Borked,” no nominee would ever again speak so freely about his views as Bork did.
The Senate’s resounding rejection of Judge Robert H. Bork in the fall of 1987 was a turning point, the first time it spurned a nominee to the high court for primarily ideological reasons.
It was also a personal turning point for Mr. Biden. In the Bork debate, Mr. Biden’s political ethos found its most vivid and successful expression.
A review of Mr. Biden’s conduct in the debate — including interviews with 16 people directly involved in the nomination fight, and a review of the hearings and Mr. Biden’s speeches — yielded a portrait of Mr. Biden as an ambitious young senator determined to achieve a vital liberal goal by decidedly unradical means.
The strategy Chairman Biden deployed then is the same one he is now proposing to bring to the White House as President Biden.
In the 1980s, as today, he saw bipartisan compromise not as a version of surrender, but as a vital tool for achieving Democratic goals.
Then, as now, Mr. Biden saw the culture and traditions of the Senate not as crippling obstacles, but as instruments that could be bent to his advantage.
And in both defining moments — his leadership of the Bork hearings and his third presidential campaign — Mr. Biden made persuading moderates, rather than exciting liberals, his guiding objective.
Mr. Biden, whose campaign declined to make him available for an interview, has strained to defend this approach in the 2020 presidential primary, offering only a halting rationale for a political worldview that other Democrats see as out of date. His rivals have branded him as a timid and even reactionary figure — a creature of the Senate cloakroom who partnered with former segregationists to pass draconian anti-crime legislation and joined with the business lobby to tighten bankruptcy laws.
And Mr. Biden’s opponents point not to the Bork hearings but a different confirmation battle as proof that his instincts are flawed. Four years after Bork was defeated, Mr. Biden would again take an accommodating approach to his Republican colleagues during Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings, allowing harsh and invasive questioning of Anita Hill, the law professor who accused the nominee of sexual harassment. Mr. Biden would later express “regret” for the treatment she endured.
But he has never regretted the conciliatory style that led him to triumph against Bork. In that process, every important decision Mr. Biden made was aimed at winning over conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans — men like Mr. Warner.
Now 92, Mr. Warner said in an interview that his memories of the Bork hearings had grown foggy over the years. But two impressions were indelible, he said. The first concerned Reagan’s nominee: “I never encountered a man with a shorter temper,” Mr. Warner said.
The second concerned the caliber of the Senate’s deliberations.
“It was a real, solid, good debate, led by Biden,” Mr. Warner said. “He showed extraordinary leadership.”
The outcome was not foreordained, for either Bork or Mr. Biden. The debate unfolded at a moment of humiliation for Mr. Biden, whose first campaign for president unraveled as the Bork hearings approached their climax. And the judge was no timid adversary, as the journalist Ethan Bronner wrote in a book on the nomination.
“Robert Bork,” Mr. Bronner wrote, “was a man of war.”
Mr. Biden was seated behind a desk in a spacious living room adjoining his study at his Wilmington, Del., home. A few aides sat or stood around the room, where pizza was in generous supply. Squared off against Mr. Biden was Robert H. Bork — or rather, a convincing simulacrum played by the constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe.
Mr. Tribe and Mr. Biden would spar for hours in a series of sessions that August, joined occasionally by other legal experts who would help Mr. Biden hone his queries on subjects from antitrust regulation to sexual privacy.
“Biden’s questions were really smart, and they also needed some sharpening,” Mr. Tribe said in an interview, citing Mr. Biden’s tendency to “ask one thing and mean something slightly different.”
Mr. Biden came to those training sessions by a jagged path, shaped by pressure from progressive activists and the delicate politics of the Judiciary Committee. He was arming himself to oppose Bork, but not with the methods of the left.
On the day Bork was nominated, liberals viewed Mr. Biden with suspicion. Taking over one of the Senate’s great committees at a boyish — for the Senate — age of 44, Mr. Biden had already split with progressives on the issue of busing as a means of desegregating schools. Until Bork, the authors Michael Pertschuk and Wendy Schaetzel would write, Mr. Biden “had been reluctant to challenge Reagan’s transformation of the federal judiciary.”
The previous November, the soon-to-be chairman had given liberals new reason for concern, suggesting to The Philadelphia Inquirer that he might one day vote to put Bork on the Supreme Court, should he be Reagan’s next nominee.
“I’m not Teddy Kennedy,” he told the newspaper.
When Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., a flexible conservative, resigned from the court in late June, Mr. Biden found himself in the shadow of Kennedy, the party’s leading liberal, and laboring to reconcile his own moderate instincts with a mood of alarm on the left. When the White House announced Bork’s nomination on the first day of July, Kennedy delivered a thunderous warning from the Senate floor: In “Robert Bork’s America,” Kennedy said,
- “women would be forced into back-alley abortions,
- blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters.”
The scathing address was a call to arms for the left, and it helped animate a coalition of progressives — led by feminists, civil rights activists and labor unions — that applied pressure to undecided senators throughout the summer.
“His record was so extensive, and it touched almost every issue of importance to American life,” said Nan Aron, a leading anti-Bork activist. “It wasn’t simply a single issue that caused people to be alarmed.”
Another purpose of Kennedy’s speech, his allies have said, was to ensure Mr. Biden would not cave.
“One of the reasons for ‘Robert Bork’s America’ was to freeze Biden,” Jeffrey Blattner, a Kennedy aide, would say decades later, in an oral history for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. “He’s running for president. We didn’t want to leave him any choice.”
Mr. Biden quickly aligned himself with Kennedy, and, at his liberal colleague’s urging, secured an agreement from Senator Strom Thurmond — the 84-year-old former segregationist who was the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican — to delay Bork’s hearings until September.
“Biden was under a lot of pressure, particularly from the liberal senators,” said former Senator Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, a centrist Democrat who said he began the confirmation process favorably disposed toward Bork. “At first, I was leaning strongly to vote for him.”
Even as he pledged to oppose Bork, Mr. Biden made clear to progressive leaders in a private meeting that he saw his role as sharply distinct from theirs. He would play an inside game aimed at swaying Senate moderates, starting with the four undecided members of his committee:
- Mr. DeConcini and two other Democrats,
- Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and
- Howell Heflin of Alabama, and a Republican,
- Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
Ralph Neas, a civil rights activist who joined the liberals’ initial meeting with Mr. Biden, said the chairman conveyed “that he would take the lead and we would try to put together a bipartisan coalition.”
“Biden’s street cred with a lot of the centrists was quite high,” Mr. Neas said.
Mr. Biden was blunter with his aides: He would not adopt Kennedy’s rhetoric or make abortion his central cause. According to a book Mr. Gitenstein published in 1992 about the confirmation fight, Mr. Biden feared Bork would overturn Roe v. Wade but told aides he did not see the case as “great constitutional law.” More disturbing to him — and, he believed, more likely to sway undecided voters — was a Connecticut case on contraception that revealed Bork’s doubts about a broader right to privacy.
“It really concerns me more than abortion,” Mr. Biden is quoted as saying in the book.
In their sessions, Mr. Tribe said, the future vice president wrestled not just with Bork’s record but also with the idea of disqualifying nominees based on individual issues.
“I remember pushing back on Biden, saying, ‘If you think Roe v. Wade really ought to be the law of the land, shouldn’t that count?’” Mr. Tribe recalled. “He said, ‘Yes, it should count a lot, but I still don’t want to have a flat litmus test.’”
Mr. Tribe remembered thinking: “This guy’s a little bit more cautious than I am. But that’s fine, he’s playing a different role.”
Mr. Biden’s self-assigned role was readily apparent as the Bork hearings began in mid-September. Beaming down at the judge from a crowded dais, Mr. Biden praised him as man of towering achievement and “provocative” views. Flanked by Kennedy at one elbow and Thurmond at the other, Mr. Biden said the hearings should not be “clouded by strident rhetoric from the far left or the far right.”
“Anytime you feel you want to expand on an answer, you are not bound by time,” Mr. Biden encouraged Bork, adding in a tone of levity, “Go ahead and bog us down.”
In the Bork hearings, every important decision Mr. Biden made was aimed at winning over conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans.
In the Bork hearings, every important decision Mr. Biden made was aimed at winning over conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans.CreditJose
The judge, bearded and broad shouldered, did not recognize the trap.
Few men could have been more prepared to face a constitutional interrogation. A former Yale Law School professor who served as the country’s solicitor general and, amid the maelstrom of Watergate, as acting attorney general, Bork brought to the hearings a reputation for quick eloquence and utter mastery of the law.
Mr. Biden had no such reputation, and the columnist George F. Will spoke for much of Washington when he predicted Bork would be “more than a match for Biden.”
The chairman gave his colleagues wide latitude to question Bork, whose testimony consumed five days. It culminated in an unusual Saturday hearing that was dominated by an hourslong debate between Bork and Specter, a former district attorney who frequently rode the Amtrak rails with Mr. Biden, about the meaning of constitutional intent. Mr. Biden had offered Specter half an hour for his questions; when Specter balked at the time limit, Mr. Biden relented and opened the way for a crucial exchange.
“His debate with my father on constitutional law did reveal him to be not sufficiently respectful of precedent, which pushed my father against him, and pushed other swing senators against him,” said Shanin Specter, the senator’s son and a Philadelphia lawyer. “It would not have happened if Biden, as chair, hadn’t permitted the hearings to go exactly as long as they needed to go.”
Mr. Biden sought, too, to quash attacks on Bork that he saw as risking political backlash. He shot down a plan to ambush Bork with a recording of a speech he gave in 1985, insisting on sharing it with the judge before airing it in the committee. And Mr. Biden and his aides refused a request from a number of prominent activists, including Ralph Nader, to testify in opposition to Bork. The left was applying powerful pressure from outside the Senate, but Mr. Biden preferred that its leaders stay there — on the outside.
Ms. Aron, who would later clash with Mr. Biden over the nomination of Justice Thomas in 1991, said the combination of popular pressure on the Senate and Mr. Biden’s high-minded hearings doomed the nominee.
“What defeated Robert Bork was public pressure,” Ms. Aron said. “But what allowed the public to engage was a review of Bork’s record.”
And Bork did himself few favors: While he assured senators, in his rumbling voice, that he would not overturn rulings capriciously, he struggled to explain away past comments decrying “dozens” of shoddy Supreme Court decisions or deriding the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or ridiculing the concept of a constitutional right to privacy. He startled even some allies by describing as “troublesome” the reasoning behind a 1954 case desegregating public schools in the nation’s capital.
In his questions, Mr. Biden posed as a mere mortal grappling with the ideas of a giant.
“Clearly, I do not want to get into a debate with a professor,” Mr. Biden stressed, prodding Mr. Bork about the Griswold v. Connecticut case that ended a state prohibition on birth control: “As I hear you, you do not believe there is a general right of privacy that is in the Constitution.”
“Not one derived in that fashion,” Bork said of the popular decision. “There may be other arguments, and I do not want to pass upon those.”
Watching Bork’s testimony, his political backers knew he was losing. He was articulate, but he was also argumentative. His knowledge of the law was powerful, his political antennae were not.
“I can’t blame Biden,” reflected Tom Korologos, the Republican lobbyist tasked with ushering Bork onto the court. “I blame Bork and Specter, and the other senators, for going on and on.”
Every swing vote on Mr. Biden’s committee swung against Bork, sending him to the floor with a negative recommendation by a vote of 9 to 5. The White House offered Bork the chance to withdraw; he chose martyrdom instead.
His supporters gave him that much, accusing Bork’s opponents of bowing to activists like Mr. Neas and Ms. Aron. “The man’s been trashed in our house,” Senator John Danforth, Republican of Missouri, lamented on the Senate floor. “Some of us helped generate the trashing. Others of us yielded to it.”
Mr. Biden called Mr. Danforth’s complaint an insult to the Senate.
“I have a higher opinion of the ability of my colleagues to do what’s right than, apparently, the senator from Missouri does,” he said.
Mr. Biden’s approach to the Bork nomination was a legislative and political success, one he experienced as personal redemption after his presidential candidacy crumbled. It brought to maturity the strategic instincts that defined him in subsequent battles — including his contested stewardship of the Thomas hearings — and that shape his candidacy today.
The fate of Mr. Biden’s campaign, and perhaps a future presidency, may hinge on whether that version of leadership, defined by collegiality and adherence to procedure, can inspire Democrats and coax cooperation from Republicans. In the presidential race, there is no Ted Kennedy to sound a trumpet for the left while Mr. Biden plays a methodical inside game. And there are no Republicans to be found in the Senate like Specter, who eventually, at Mr. Biden’s urging, quit the G.O.P. to become a Democrat before his death in 2012.
Still, Mr. Gitenstein said he had encouraged the former vice president to draw public attention to his role in the 1987 court fight. The defeat of Robert Bork averted a solidly conservative majority, handing the court’s decisive seat to the more pliant Anthony M. Kennedy, who became a decisive figure in a generation’s worth of eclectic rulings on subjects from campaign finance and union rights to abortion and the legal definition of marriage.
“I don’t think he or anyone else makes enough of the fact that, but for Biden, Roe would be dead 30 years ago, and, but for Biden, we wouldn’t have the gay marriage decision,” Mr. Gitenstein said. “I’ve talked to him about it. He’s got so much on his platter.”
Mr. DeConcini, who at 82 is a supporter of Mr. Biden’s campaign, said he hoped a strategy of moderation could prevail again.
But he admitted to having doubts.
“I’d like to think so, I really would,” Mr. DeConcini said. “I’m just not sure.”
Here is the source document for the comments Congressman King recently made regarding his “no exceptions” pro-life position.
View the footage for yourselves to see what King actually said.
Here’s a hint: King’s remarks were not accurately portrayed by the Des Moines Register or The Associated Press. In fact, each entity has subsequently issued corrections for their coverage of King’s speech.
Here is a transcript of King’s remarks that provides accuracy and context left out of much of the media coverage.
“We moved this along to 174 co-sponsors. I had solid promises that we would get a mark-up in Judiciary Committee. I kept getting messages to accept an amendment for exceptions for rape and incest.
“I’ve got 174 people who say they don’t want exceptions for rape and incest because they understand it is not the baby’s fault, to abort the baby, because of the sin of the father, and maybe sometimes the sin of the mother too, and so I refused to do that. I just kept pushing the pressure up. We had the votes in the judiciary committee to peel off every amendment and put that bill on the floor, and pass it on the floor. And put the marker down that exceptions are not going to be part of the dialogue any further because this is about the sanctity of human life.
And so I refused to do that and down to the last couple days of our lame duck session, that order came back out of leadership – ‘no mark-up, no floor action!’ Boom. And so, all right, I held the ground on principle. Maybe we could have gotten that to the floor if I compromised, it wasn’t going to move through the Senate anyway, but we still stand on these principles of life.
Since then, I started to think. We know the reasons why we don’t want the exceptions, for the most of us, for rape and incest – because it is not the baby’s fault. And I started to wonder about this, what if it was OK and what if we went back through all of our family trees and just pulled those people out who were products of rape and incest, would there be any population of the world left if we did that? Considering all of the wars, all of the rape and pillage that has taken place, whatever happened with culture after society, I know I can’t certify that I’m not part of a product of that.
And I would like to think that every one of the lives of us are as precious as any other life, and that is our measure. Human life cannot be measured. It is the measure itself against which all things are weighed. Human life, not a qualifier there, it’s not about whether you are one day after conception or one day after birth or one day before your 100th birthday, all life has equal value according to the law and equal value according to God.”
I bought them online. They’re easy to get, and they’ll change everything.
One afternoon about a year ago, just as the Senate began considering Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, I logged on to Day Night Healthcare, an online pharmacy based in India, and ordered a pack of abortion pills. A few hours later, I got a call from a Day Night customer-service agent with a warning. If my credit-card company called to ask about the purchase, “tell them you approve the charge, but don’t say what it’s for,” the man advised. “If they ask, say it’s gym equipment, or something like that.”
In fact, the bank never called, and in a week and a half, a small brown envelope — bearing a postmark not from India but from New Jersey — arrived in the mail. Inside was a foil blister pack stamped with a manufacturer’s logo, dosage information and batch-identification numbers. It contained five pills. One was a 200-milligram dose of mifepristone, better known by its code name during its development in the 1980s, RU-486. The four others were 200 micrograms each of misoprostol, a drug used widely in obstetrics and gynecology, including to induce contractions.
The pills looked unremarkable; tiny, white, round, they did notbetray what some abortion-rights advocates say are their epic possibilities. Mifepristone was approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration nearly 20 years ago. Used in combination with misoprostol for pregnancies of up to 10 weeks, the pills are more than 97 percent effective.
The drugs, which have been used by tens of millions of women around the world, are also some of the safest known to modern medicine — mifepristone has accumulated a record of adverse complications lower than that of Tylenol, Flonase, Xanax and Viagra. In 2017, Canadian regulators lifted most restrictions on the drug, allowing it to be prescribed by any doctor, without requiring an ultrasound, and dispensed in any pharmacy.
Yet thanks to the digital handiwork of an emerging faction within the global reproductive-rights movement, restrictions on abortion pills are becoming increasingly difficult to enforce. Despite the F.D.A.’s restrictions, activists have created a robust online market that makes getting pills surprisingly easy. There are “report cards” on where to find tested drugs, detailed guides on how to use them safely, a help line for consulting with legal experts, and dozens of discussion boards and support groups helping women navigate the fraught decision of whether and how to terminate a pregnancy.
Amid growing restrictions on clinic-based abortions, the online pill market functions as a haven of last resort for desperate women. “The women who come to us don’t have any other alternatives,” said Rebecca Gomperts, a Dutch physician and founder of Aid Access, which offers abortion pills online for about $90, with discounts for patients in financial straits. “They don’t have funds, or they are six hours away from the clinic, or they don’t have transport, they have small kids, they live in cars, there are situations of domestic violence — it’s just really bad situations.” In 2018, Gomperts prescribed the drug online to 2,581 patients.
But the pills aren’t just a way to evade today’s restrictions on abortion. Some activists argue that they can also remake tomorrow’s politics surrounding abortion — that the very presence of the underground market could force the authorities to loosen restrictions on abortion pills, eventually paving the way for an alternative vision for terminating a pregnancy in the United States: the inexpensive, safe, very early, private, at-home, picket-line-free, self-managed medical abortion.
“Did you feel a little rush when your pills arrived?” Elisa Wells, a director of the pill-advocacy group Plan C, asked me during a recent phone call. “It’s like, wow — it’s amazing that this really works.”
She’s right: I did feel a little rush when I got my first pills. I’d expected the whole thing to be onerous. And so, probing for hidden difficulties, I tried again, and again.
In the last year, I’ve ordered abortion pills from four different online pharmacies. The process was sometimes sketchy. There were poorly translated websites and customer-service reps messaging me over Skype with the greeting “yo.” I declined to pursue one order because the site asked me to wire money to a random address in India. After I filled out its consultation form, Aid Access sent me an email asking me if I really am pregnant, as I have a man’s name and “the woman must confirm” that she is ordering the drugs of her own accord; since I’m a man and not pregnant, I didn’t place the order.
But most of my orders came through fine. Each of the three pill packages I got cost me between $200 and $300, including expedited shipping. (The average cost of an abortion in the United States is about $500.)
I spent months looking for a lab that would test my pills; many waved me off, wary of controversy. Finally, I got in touch with Alan Wu, chief of the clinical chemistry laboratory at San Francisco General Hospital, whose lab tested a couple of my mifepristone tablets. The finding: They were authentic. I wasn’t surprised; in a more comprehensive study conducted by Gynuity Health and Plan C, published last year in the journal Contraception, researchers in four states ordered abortion pills from 16 different online pharmacies, and found they were all just what they said they were.
Each time I got a pack of pills in the mail, I was increasingly bowled over: If this is so easy, how will they ever stop this? I’ve been watching digital markets for 20 years, and I’ve learned to spot a simple, powerful dynamic: When something that is difficult to get offline becomes easy to get online, big changes are afoot.
Which is not to say that everyone is on board with the online market for pills. While there’s a growing consensus in the American medical establishment that restrictions on abortion drugs no longer make medical sense, I spoke to several abortion-rights advocates who worried about a parade of horrors that might swamp the movement if the underground online pill market were left to grow unfettered: women getting fake pills, getting ripped off, getting ill, getting slipped pills by men or getting prosecuted.
The activists building the online pill network acknowledge that there are potential dangers in the market — but they insist that the risks are far smaller than many guess. In a study of more than 1,000 Irish women who obtained pills from Women on Web, a pill-dispensing group Gomperts created in 2005, fewer than 1 percent reported adverse effects requiring further medical attention. “Providing abortions this way is as safe as a clinic-based abortion,” Gomperts told me.
For providers and users, legal risk is also relatively low. Regulators have little capacity to enforce restrictions on foreign distributors. In March, the F.D.A. sent a letter to Aid Access demanding that it cease operations immediately. The organization sent a letter back saying, essentially, nope. What happens next is anybody’s guess.
Since 2000, at least 21 people have been arrested in the United States for ending a pregnancy or helping someone do so using pills, according to If/When/How, an organization that provides legal assistance to women who self-manage their abortions. That’s a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands estimated to have purchased pills online in that time.
For some activists, the specter of stepped-up prosecutions against women who buy abortion drugs is closer to a political gift than a cudgel. “The more we do this, and the more they go after women, the more we show how great the risks are, and how badly women are being treated,” Gomperts said.
And the prosecutions might only highlight the compelling evidence that increasing legal access to medical abortion — that is, abortion-by-pill rather than surgically — will allow women to have abortions much earlier in pregnancy, which is far more culturally and politically palatable in the United States.
Daniel Grossman, a professor of gynecology and obstetrics at the University of California, San Francisco, studied the effects of a program in Iowa that allowed women to get abortion pills after consulting with a doctor by video conference. The method proved extremely safe.
What’s more, wider access to abortion pills did not increase Iowa’s overall abortion rate — indeed the rate declined, most likely because of a state program that improved access to contraceptives. But the type of abortions shifted: More women had first-trimester abortions, and fewer women had second-trimester abortions. Grossman is working on several other clinical studies focused on the pill, and he says he believes the weight of the evidence will soon become irrefutable.
The pill isn’t hard to get now, and it will only get easier.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Grossman told me.