Shocking Number of Voters Blame Biden for the End of Roe. I Can’t Blame Them.

“We know there’s been an onslaught of disinformation about abortion,” one reproductive rights advocate told Jezebel. But the Biden-Harris campaign and all elected officials advocating for abortion rights should work to “educate the public,” address the fake news, and act with more tangible urgency.

Abortion
Shocking Number of Voters Blame Biden for the End of Roe. I Can’t Blame Them.
Biden speaks at the ”Reproductive Freedom Campaign Rally” at George Mason University on January 23, 2024, in Manassas, Virginia. Photo: Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump has never been shy about taking credit for killing Roe v. Wade. And for all his laughable posturing about “compromising” on abortion, including more recently backing a bullshit “state’s rights” stance, Trump never misses an opportunity to say, point-blank, “I was able to kill Roe.”

Given his own words, on top of his hand in shaping both the Supreme Court and judicial branch for years to come, you’d think there’d be little ambiguity as to who’s to blame for killing Roe. But last week, a new poll showed 17% of voters in six swing states (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada) said they believe Biden has “a lot of responsibility” or “some responsibility” for ending the right to abortion in the U.S. Most of the surveyed voters—over 55%—said Trump has “some responsibility” or “a lot of responsibility” for overturning Roe. But it’s still fairly jarring that nearly a fifth of voters in key swing states seemingly blame Biden for the demise of abortion rights.

To some working in the reproductive rights and justice space, the poll highlights an important reality that many people didn’t lose access to abortion care until the current administration—and even if this is a consequence of the previous administration’s actions, some voters might make their judgments based on what they’re directly experiencing. Taren Holliman, program manager at the Abortion Fund of Ohio, is deeply familiar with the Trump administration’s attacks on abortion rights—and she also points to how President Biden’s “inaction” on the issue could shape conflicted public perceptions as to who’s at fault for the end of Roe.

Holliman’s work for abortion access was difficult in the Trump era and has remained difficult under the Biden administration. “We’ve always been on our own,” she told Jezebel. She points to the “ceremonial” rallies from Biden’s and Vice President Kamala Harris’ campaign promising to “restore Roe,” as well as Biden’s avoidance of saying the word “abortion.” This all “can contribute” to abortion stigma, she says, and doesn’t do anything to change the fact that her work at an abortion fund remains “underfunded.”

Biden does have a record of appointing judges and justices who support abortion rights, and he has ordered executive actions to protect access to medication abortion and guide hospitals in states that have banned abortion to provide emergency abortion care. It’s fair to debate the extent to which Biden has the power to fully address the fallout of Dobbsbut it’s also fair to question how committed the president is to abortion rights or reproductive justice more broadly when he’s stated on multiple occasions that he isn’t “big” on abortion, and doesn’t support “abortion on demand” (a stigmatizing, right-wing term for conveniently available abortion access). He’s also stated that Roe itself “got it right,” despite leaving large swaths of people behind. So, I can’t exactly blame people for watching the fall of Roe take place during the Biden administration, then watch Biden seemingly shrug it all off, and conclude that he has “some responsibility” for the end of a fundamental right. 

Holliman also points out that not enough people are able to experience the “material impact” of Biden’s guidances, and the president’s “reluctance to act with conviction” on the issue doesn’t help. “As small as it may seem,” she explained, “not saying ‘abortion’” or articulating specific action plans beyond reinstating Roe (on the off-chance that Democrats win a sizable enough majority in Congress) suggests that abortion isn’t an urgent issue for Biden. 

 

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To others in the reproductive rights and justice space, the survey’s findings are indicative of misinformation. Nourbese Flint, president of the reproductive justice group All* Above All, told Jezebel that Roe “is the floor, not the ceiling” when it comes to the presidential administration’s obligations to protect and expand reproductive rights. “We know there’s been an onslaught, there always has been, of disinformation about abortion,” Flint said. But the Biden-Harris campaign and all elected officials advocating for abortion rights should work to “educate the public,” address the fake news, and act with more tangible urgency.

Similarly, Mini Timmaraju, president of Reproductive Freedom for All (formerly NARAL), recently told HuffPost that “we’ve known all along, as advocacy groups that have endorsed Biden and Harris, we have a lot of work to do to make sure voters understand not only what the Biden-Harris record is, but what they’re going to do when we return them to the White House.”

“We knew we were going to have to keep reminding voters who was responsible for the crisis and who can fix it,” Timmaraju said. “Trump’s vote is locked in, Biden has a lot of opportunity.”

The same poll also asked voters in the six swing states about a range of issues, including the economy and Israel’s war on Gaza, which the Biden administration has continuously funded and supported. The poll found that 13% of the voters who said they voted for Biden in 2020 but don’t plan to do so again this year said his position on Gaza was the most important issue to their vote. Notably, the war has also created friction among reproductive rights advocates concerned with the horrific violence against pregnant women, newborns, and children that Israeli forces have inflicted on Gaza and the Biden administration’s role in aiding this. 

The “president’s refusal to stop this [the war on Gaza],” Holliman told Jezebel, certainly won’t endear his reelection campaign to those who recognize reproductive justice as a global issue. Or, as Renee Bracey Sherman, executive director of We Testify, told Jezebel earlier this year, those who recognize that “reproductive freedom doesn’t stop at our borders.”

“Ultimately, there are so many who have been doing this work, in reproductive justice and abortion, on the ground for so, so long,” Holliman said. Given the tremendous popularity of abortion and the urgency around access to care in this country, a poll that suggests a not-insignificant amount of voters blame him for the current state of affairs is a problem—and, she argued, it’s Biden’s prerogative to listen to experts and abortion workers like her to “prove” abortion matters to him. 

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