Fact Check: Did Joe Biden say “life begins at conception?”

The Supreme Court‘s ruling on Roe v. Wade threatens to push back abortion rights across the country with politicians, including President Joe Biden, condemning the move.

The president has in-turn been scrutinized for his criticism, as his views on abortion rights appeared to shift throughout his political career.

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision, some have dug into Biden’s past statements to cross-examine his stance.

US President Joe Biden has been scrutinized for his views on abortion rights in the wake of SCOTUS’ Roe v. Wade ruling. Pictured here taking a question at the NATO Summit on June 30, 2022 in Madrid, Spain.
Dennis Doyle/Getty Images

The Claim

In a tweet sent on 29 June, 2022, Ohio Representative Jim Jordan quoted Joe Biden claiming the president had said “Life begins at conception”. The tweet received more than 50,000 engagements.

The Facts

The tweet by congressman Jordan does not provide a full quotation, misrepresenting what president Biden said at the time.

It appears to be from a 2012 vice presidential debate on ABC News between Biden and former vice presidential candidate and congressman Paul Ryan.

During the debate, both guests were asked by host Martha Raddatz about their views on abortion.

When Biden was asked to respond, this is what he said (Newsweek has highlighted the quote that congressman Jordan tweeted):

“My religion defines who I am and I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life and it has particularly informed my social doctrine.

“(The) Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help.

“With regard to, with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a what we call De Fide doctrine.

“Life begins at conception, that’s the church’s judgment, I accept it in my personal life, but I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the congressman.

“I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that, women, they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor in my view and the Supreme Court (and) I’m not going to interfere with that.”

Biden later went on to criticize what he claimed was Ryan’s former views: “In the past he has argued there’s rape and forcible rape, he’s argued that in the case of rape or incest it was still, it would be a crime to engage in having an abortion. I just fundamentally disagree with my friend.”

The full debate can be viewed here.

A spokesman for congressman Jordan defended the tweet, saying “He (Biden) said ‘Life begins at conception.’ It was a direct quote.”

But the quote Jordan tweeted appears to imply the president supports stronger abortion restrictions, despite his opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade. As the 2012 interview shows, Biden strongly caveated that he did not believe his view should be imposed on others.

Without this context, Jordan’s tweet may be deemed misleading.

Furthermore, while Biden has previously said “life begins at conception,” it appears his view has since evolved.

When questioned in September 2021 about Texas lawmakers restricting abortions from the detection of a heartbeat, the president said: “I respect people who think that, who don’t support Roe v. Wade, I respect their views.”

“I respect those who believe life begins at the moment of conception and all. I respect that. Don’t agree, but I respect that. I’m not going to impose that on people.”

While Biden has been frequently pulled up for his own apparent gaffes, he has also been misquoted by others.

One recent example, fact-checked by Newsweek, was in June 2022, when it was wrongly suggested that the president had “admitted” that Ukraine would have to give up territories in its conflict with Russia.

Posts on social media also inaccurately claimed that in May 2022 he told a Paralympic athlete “Don’t jump” during a White House ceremony when he was, in fact, talking to a photographer.

Newsweek has contacted the White House for comment.

The Ruling

Fact Check - Half True

Half True.

President Biden did say during a 2012 vice presidential debate that “life begins at conception,” but the quote is taken out of broader context. He also said his view should not be imposed on others, and that an abortion was a decision between a patient and doctor. This additional speech was not included in congressman Jordan’s tweet. It also appears that Biden’s views have changed since 2012.

FACT CHECK BY Newsweek’s Fact Check team



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