President Joe Biden issued a forceful defense of access to abortion on Tuesday, saying a woman’s right to choose is “fundamental” and that “basic fairness” demands that Supreme Court not overturn five decades of precedent in an upcoming decision.
Biden was responding to the leak of a draft opinion—published by Politico Monday night—that, if released as a formal majority opinion in June, would overturn 1973’s Roe v. Wade and upend half a century of legal protections backing a constitutional right to abortion in the U.S.
“I believe that a woman’s right to choose is fundamental, Roe has been the law of the land for almost fifty years, and basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned,” Biden said in a statement.
The draft opinion is not final and the language of the opinion or how Justices vote could change in the coming weeks. But if the Supreme Court does overturn Roe v. Wade by the end of next month, Biden said he would push for Congress to pass a bill guaranteeing protections under Roe, and that he’d be willing to sign it into law. Getting such a law passed, he said, will require voters to elect more pro-choice lawmakers in the House and Senate in November’s midterm elections. At this point, that seems unlikely; Democrats have been bracing for potential losses in the House in November and Biden’s approval ratings—hovering in the low 40s—are a potential drag on the performance of his party in the midterms.
The White House had been bracing for the Supreme Court to potentially overturn Roe v. Wade, Biden said. When the Supreme Court allowed a Texas law that bans abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy to take effect last year, Biden instructed his White House counsel’s office, led by Dana Remus, and the White House Gender Policy Council, led by Jennifer Klein, to craft his Administration’s response to a more sweeping decision from the Court. “We will be ready when any ruling is issued,” Biden said.
The news of the Supreme Court possibly preparing to overturn the landmark reproductive rights case comes at a challenging time for Biden politically. While unemployment is low, concerns over inflation persists as prices on household goods continue to increase, the impacts of the pandemic drag on, and Biden is working to manage the complex global response to Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.
Since becoming President, Biden hasn’t spent a lot of time talking about defending reproductive rights, an important issue to his base. Biden didn’t dwell on the topic of abortion during his State of the Union address in March. “The constitutional right affirmed by Roe v. Wade—standing precedent for half a century—is under attack as never before,” Biden told the joint session of Congress on March 1. “If we want to go forward, not backward, we must protect access to health care. Preserve a woman’s right to choose.”
If the Supreme Court’s final ruling reflects what is in the draft, it will be a “radical decision,” Biden told reporters as he traveled to Troy, Alabama to see a factory making anti-tank weapons being shipped to the Ukraine military. If the Supreme Court decision becomes the law of the land, Biden said, “it goes far beyond the concern of whether or not there is the right to choose, it goes to other basic rights, right to marry, right to determine a whole range of things.” Biden confirmed he would push for a law to codify the rights in Roe, but he wouldn’t commit to supporting the elimination of the filibuster’s 60 vote threshold in the Senate to do it. “I’m not prepared to make those judgements now,” Biden said.
The possibility that the Supreme Court may reverse itself on abortion rights follows a period of advances on abortion restrictions by Republicans in state legislatures, making the issue an even more prominent part of campaign talking points for candidates from both parties. Polling showed an increase in voter attention to the issue after Texas implemented its restrictive law on abortions in the fall. Senate Democrats tried and failed in late February to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act that would codify in law the protections from Roe v. Wade.
If the draft opinion becomes the final opinion of the Supreme Court, the only way to ensure a nationwide right to an abortion would be through Congress. Biden, based on his comments Tuesday, thinks they need to try again.
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