President Joe Biden sharply criticized the Supreme Court’s decision Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade and end national abortion rights in the United States, saying it puts the country on an “extreme and dangerous path” and could soon lead to the disappearance of other constitutional rights.
At the same time, Biden outlined steps his administration would take to help protect abortion access, while making it clear that only Congress could enact legislation to codify Roe v. Wade into law ― and urging Americans to vote to make sure that happens.
“Today, the Supreme Court expressly took away a constitutional right from the American people that it had already recognized,” said Biden, who chaired the Judiciary Committee as a senator from Delaware and is a longtime supporter of abortion rights. “They didn’t limit it. They simply took it away. That’s never been done to a right so important to so many Americans.”
“But they did it,” he added. “And it’s a sad day for the court and for the country.”
Biden noted that the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, written by Justice Samuel Alito, points to state laws criminalizing abortion from the 1800s as its rationale.
“The court is literally taking America back 150 years,” he said.
The ruling flies in the face of popular opinion and ends the five-decade-old precedent protecting abortion rights. Abortion is now expected to become illegal in roughly half of the country’s states. The decision represents a major victory for the conservative movement, and is likely to spawn years of political battles over the legality and accessibility of abortion in all 50 states.
Biden argued that the battle over abortion rights is not over, and pointed to November’s midterm elections as the next front.
“This decision must not be the final word,” he said. “This fall, Roe is on the ballot. Personal freedoms are on the ballot. The right to privacy, liberty, equality ― they’re all on the ballot.”
The president pledged to protect women who travel to other states to obtain abortions, calling that a “bedrock right.” He said he was directing the Department of Health and Human Services to make sure abortion pills “are available to the fullest extent possible.” (Medication abortions now account for more than half of the abortions in the country, according to the Guttmacher Institute.)
Biden also raised alarm about other rulings based on a constitutional right to privacy, including ones protecting same-sex marriage, access to contraception and freedom from criminalization for sodomy. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said in a concurring opinion that the court should reconsider rulings that protect those rights.
“Roe recognized the fundamental right to privacy that has served as the basis for so many more rights that we’ve come to take for granted that are ingrained in the fabric of this country,” he said. “The right to make the best decisions for your health. The right to use birth control ― a married couple in the privacy of their bedroom, for God’s sake. The right to marry the person you love.”
The president’s 11-minute speech will likely do little to mollify abortion rights activists who have criticized him for not doing enough to protect Roe, even as it became clear the court was prepared to strike it down.
“This has been a crisis for a year and a half and he waited until it was over to say something,” said Renee Bracey Sherman, the founder of the abortion storytelling group We Testify. “That is so disrespectful to every single person in this country who’s had an abortion and needs an abortion.”
Indeed, Biden spent part of his speech emphasizing the limitations of his powers ― an apparent retort to activists and lawmakers who have pushed for him to issue an executive order protecting abortion rights, make abortion medicine available over the counter and allow telemedicine across state lines to help women in states where abortion is banned.
“The only way we can secure a woman’s right to choose, and the balance that existed, is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade as federal law,” he said. “No executive action from the president can do that.”
Though Democrats control both the House and Senate with narrow majorities, their previous attempts to codify Roe have failed, due to the opposition of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to specific language in the legislation, and due to the Senate filibuster’s 60-vote requirement.
Alanna Vagianos contributed reporting.
More on the Supreme Court abortion ruling:
- Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade, dismantling decades-old precedent
- Roe overturned: The fight begins
- Abortion is now illegal in these states
- Liberal justices dissent with “sorrow” for “millions of American women”
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “We have to fill the streets”
- Clarence Thomas: Cases protecting gay marriage and contraception should be next
- Republicans make it clear they want to ban abortion nationwide
- Donald Trump praises SCOTUS decision
- West Coast states launch a plan to protect out-of-state abortion patients
- Here’s how the world is reacting to the end of Roe