Joe Biden Will Meet Pope Francis As Abortion Rights Head to Supreme Court

President Joe Biden will meet Pope Francis on Friday amid a fierce debate about abortion rights in the U.S. and criticism of the president from conservative Catholics.

Biden is just the second Roman Catholic to serve as president, but his stance on abortion has put him at odds with many Catholics, including conservative U.S. bishops who have pushed for him to be denied the sacrament of the Eucharist.

The meeting between the president and the pontiff comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to take up two cases that may determine the future of abortion rights in America.

The pope has been unequivocal in affirming the church's belief that an embryo is a "human life," but he has also urged "compassion" for politicians who take a different view.

Biden has also been clear in his opinion that life does not begin at conception and in his support for abortion rights.

The pair's conversation may focus more on issues where they agree, such as the need to tackle climate change, but Biden's meeting with Pope Francis will draw attention to his Catholic critics.

On the day of Biden's inauguration, Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement criticizing his position on abortion.

"I must point out that our new president has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender," Gómez wrote.

In June, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted by 73 percent to 24 percent to approve new draft guidance on the Eucharist. The vote was seen as a victory for conservatives who want to deny Biden the sacrament of Holy Communion. A report on the issue is due at the organization's upcoming conference.

Pope Francis has not directly addressed the question of withholding Holy Communion from lawmakers who support abortion rights. However, he has called on bishops not to condemn these politicians, but to treat them with "compassion and tenderness."

Amid criticism from conservative Catholics, Biden is also under pressure from abortion rights advocates who fear that the Supreme Court may overturn the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade, which established the constitutional right to abortion.

The court has agreed to expedite a case about the six-week abortion ban recently introduced in Texas. The Department of Justice filed a brief with the court on Wednesday, calling the law unconstitutional, and the arguments will be heard on November 1.

The justices declined a request from attorneys for the state of Texas to consider overruling Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which affirmed the decision made in Roe.

If a majority of the justices decide the Texas law is constitutional, it will have profound implications for abortion access in the state and beyond. The Supreme Court will also hear a direct challenge to Roe and Casey in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which relates to a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi.

Pope Francis and Biden Pictured in 2015
Pope Francis and Joe Biden, who was then vice president, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on September 24, 2015. Biden will meet the pope on Friday. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images