Joe Biden: Abortion Rights ‘Under Attack As Never Before’

Despite the president's strong words on reproductive rights, he still has yet to say the word "abortion" in any public statement or remarks.

President Joe Biden acknowledged the attacks on abortion care during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.

“The constitutional right affirmed by Roe v. Wade ― standing precedent for half a century—is under attack as never before,” Biden said, referring to the 1973 Supreme Court case that afforded a person’s right to get an abortion. “If you want to go forward ― not backwards—we must protect access to health care. Preserve a woman’s right to choose and continue to advance maternal health care for all Americans.”

Biden’s remarks were met with cheers and applause from Democratic lawmakers. The chamber looked somewhat bare since most lawmakers were not allowed to bring guests due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Despite the president’s strong words in support of Roe, he has still yet to say the word “abortion” in any of his oral remarks including during Tuesday night’s address.

To date, Biden has used the word twice as president, but only in written remarks. The first time was 224 days into his presidency, when the White House published a pair of written statements on Texas’ six-week abortion ban. The second was more recently, commemorating Women’s History Month in a written statement, where he acknowledged that “the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade is facing an unprecedented assault.”

Biden has commented on the importance of abortion access in the past, but has always danced around the word itself, opting for other terms like “Roe v. Wade” or “reproductive rights.”

President Joe Biden arrives Tuesday night to deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.
President Joe Biden arrives Tuesday night to deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.
Associated Press

The president’s hesitancy to discuss abortion care is disappointing to many lawmakers and advocates who support abortion rights.

“We commend President Biden for alluding to the abortion care crisis we’re in, but it’s not enough,” Morgan Hopkins, interim executive director of campaigns and strategies at All* Above All, a reproductive justice organization, told HuffPost after Biden’s State of the Union address.

“Last year, President Biden pledged a ‘whole of government’ response to Texas’ extreme abortion ban, and six months later, we need to see more concrete steps from the White House to address the crisis we are in,” Hopkins continued. “Anti-abortion state politicians are pushing a record number of restrictions and a looming Supreme Court decision could devastate access in even more states. No one should be forced to travel to another state for abortion care because of political gamesmanship. It’s no game, because people of color working to make ends meet are the ones hurt most. The urgent moment we are in demands action. Abortion justice can’t wait.”

More than 120 abortion rights groups signed a letter earlier this month urging Biden to address the abortion care crisis during his State of the Union address. The organizations pointed out that March 1 marks six months since Texas’ six-week abortion ban went into effect. The extreme legislation deputizes private citizens to enforce the ban, effectively decimating the constitutional right to abortion while Roe still stands on the federal level.

Biden’s avoidance of the topic is more obvious than ever, now that the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which protects a person’s constitutional right to get an abortion, is expected to be overturned or gutted in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The Dobbs case centers on a 2018 Mississippi law that bans abortion at 15 weeks. The law, which was debated in front of the court in December, is a direct contradiction of Roe, which makes it a constitutional right to access abortion until a fetus becomes viable at around 24 weeks. The high court’s decision, expected sometime this spring, could strike down the Mississippi law, meaning Roe would remain intact. But advocates and experts agree that the court’s conservative majority has signaled it will likely uphold the law, either by banning abortion outright or by moving the viability line.

“We know one of the only ways we will win and reclaim access to abortion in this country is if we destigmatize it — and destigmatizing means we need to say it,” Destiny Lopez, co-president of the abortion rights organization All* Above All, told HuffPost last month. “It would be incredibly meaningful for people seeking abortion care in this country to hear Biden say the word, to hear him talk about the issue, to acknowledge that he probably knows and loves someone who has had an abortion.”

Although Biden supports a person’s right to choose ― and is more supportive of reproductive rights than his predecessor by a long shot ― his murky track record on abortion rights still follows him.

When Biden joined the Senate in 1973, the year Roe was decided, he voted in favor of allowing states to overturn the Supreme Court decision. For the majority of his career, he also supported the Hyde Amendment, which denies insurance coverage for abortions to people who receive their health care through government-sponsored plans like Medicaid. He changed his stance on the amendment in 2019 after facing criticism from other presidential candidates.

While Biden has personally been quiet on the abortion care crisis, his administration has taken steps to address it. The administration rescinded the global gag rule, dropped the Hyde Amendment from Biden’s presidential budget proposal and reversed a Trump-era guideline that barred U.S. health care providers from receiving federal funds if they discussed abortion care with patients.

The White House had also signaled its strong support for the Women’s Health Protection Act, federal legislation that would have protected abortion access if Roe fell. (The act died in the Senate on Monday.) Additionally, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services have all taken steps to protect abortion care under the Biden administration.

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