Biden to Meet with Pope Francis Amid U.S. Abortion Rights Fight

U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are set to kick off their upcoming European diplomatic trip with a visit to the Vatican and a meeting with Pope Francis, the White House said on Thursday.

The news comes as Biden, who is Catholic and regularly attends church, has faced growing backlash from some Catholics over his support for abortion rights. He has called for Congress to pass legislation to protect reproductive rights as the conservative-tilted U.S. Supreme Court weighs new state laws meant to challenge the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that has protected abortion access for nearly five decades.

The U.S. House advanced the legislation last month, but it hasn't been taken up in the Senate.

Some conservative Catholic leaders have even called for Biden to be denied communion over his support for abortion rights protections.

But the pope has rejected that push, even as he considers abortion "murder."

"Communion is not a prize for the perfect," he told reporters last month. "Communion is a gift, the presence of Jesus and his church."

During an anti-abortion rights conference in Rome in 2019, Pope Francis compared terminating a pregnancy to hiring a hitman.

"Is it licit to eliminate a human life to solve a problem?" he told the audience. "Is it licit to hire a hitman to solve a problem?"

The White House has described Biden's October 29 meeting with the pope, which is not the first time the two have met, as an effort to promote human rights and discuss the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and climate crisis.

"They will discuss working together on efforts grounded in respect for fundamental human dignity, including ending the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the climate crisis, and caring for the poor," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in a statement Thursday.

The Vatican meeting will take place ahead of Biden's trip to Rome for the G20 Leaders' Summit on October 30 and 31—the second foreign trip of Biden's presidency. After Italy, Biden will travel to Glasgow, Scotland, for the United Nations' climate change summit, known as the COP26. Biden will be there on November 1 and 2.

Last week, Pope Francis met with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who is Catholic and also supports abortion rights. On Twitter, Pelosi called the meeting "a spiritual, personal and official honor."

"His Holiness's leadership is a source of joy and hope for Catholics and for all people, challenging each of us to be good stewards of God's creation, to act on climate, to embrace the refugee, the immigrant and the poor, and to recognize the dignity and divinity in everyone," she wrote.

But Pelosi also has faced backlash, including from San Francisco's archbishop, who likened abortion to "child sacrifice" in a recent statement.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone urged Catholics to "pray and fast for members of Congress to do the right thing and keep this atrocity from being enacted in the law." He also called the proposal is "surely the type of legislation one would expect from a devout Satanist, not a devout Catholic."

The legislation under consideration in Congress would effectively ensure the right to abortion access across the country, after Texas and other largely GOP-controlled states approve measures meant to chip away at the Roe v. Wade protections. Texas' law bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected—about six weeks into a pregnancy—and creates a $10,000 reward for people who report anyone who aids an illegal abortion.

Abortion rights advocates argue the law is too restrictive, while lawmakers who oppose abortion access have sought to replicate it in other states.

"My administration is deeply committed to the constitutional right established in Roe v. Wade nearly five decades ago and will protect and defend that right," Biden vowed in a statement last month.

Psaki reiterated this month in a statement on the Texas abortion law that Biden "will continue to stand side-by-side with women across the country to protect their constitutional rights."

During a press briefing last month, she also stressed that "protecting a woman's right to choose is something the president is committed to."

She added that the codification of legalized abortion is "something that the president talked about on the campaign trail, the vice president talked about on the campaign trail."

Joe Biden to meet with Pope Francis
Pope Francis waves, next to then-Vice President Joe Biden, on a balcony after speaking at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., on September 24, 2015. Biden and first lady Jill Biden are set to kick off their upcoming European diplomatic trip with a visit to the Vatican and a meeting with the pope. AFP PHOTO/ ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/Getty Images