Biden Flailed Through His No. 1 Issue: Abortion

In response to an easy question about Roe v. Wade, Biden confusingly sputtered about immigrants, said he doesn't support "late-term abortion," and let Trump's vile lies go unchecked.

Biden Flailed Through His No. 1 Issue: Abortion

Early in Thursday night’s presidential debate, President Biden and former President Trump clashed over abortion in what was perhaps the most highly anticipated topic of the evening—and both offered incomprehensible answers. But while Trump was predictable in doling out the sort of awful lies that render abortion providers and patients vulnerable to political violence, Biden’s incoherence was, I’d argue, a little more surprising. Not because I take this 81-year-old as a particularly competent orator, but because abortion is Democrats’ platform centerpiece this year, so it doesn’t exactly bode well that the guy at the top of their ticket could hardly talk about it.

Asked about the demise of Roe v. Wade earlier in his term, Biden called it “a terrible thing,” and his answer is almost impossible to follow from there. He rebuts Trump’s bullshit claim that the end of Roe was somehow popular (a decisive majority of voters support abortion rights): “The fact is that the vast majority of scholars support Roe when it was decided, and that was, that’s this idea that they’re all against it, is just ridiculous.” Biden then went on to inexplicably reference what seemed to be the story of Laken Riley, a young woman who was killed, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant, as… a segue to make a point about people with rape-induced pregnancies being unable to access abortion…?

“Look, there’s so many young women who have been, including a young woman who just was murdered, and he [Trump] went to the funeral, the idea that she was murdered by an immigrant coming in—they talk about that. Here’s the deal. There’s a lot of young women to be raped by their father-in-laws, by their spouses, brothers and sisters… it’s just ridiculous, and they can do nothing about it, and then try crossing state lines.” 

The impact of abortion bans on rape victims is a worthy topic of discussion, especially as very few state bans offer rape exceptions, which are often inaccessible. But it doesn’t make any sense that Biden would invoke an inflammatory, irrelevant anecdote to transition into this point. Frustratingly enough, Biden’s comments seemed to set Trump up for his comments on immigration, in which he insisted “killers are coming into our country, and they are raping and killing women.” (Trump, of course, has been found liable for sexual abuse by a New York jury, and is accused of sexual misconduct and assault by dozens of women.)


When the moderators asked Trump about abortion rights, he said he’d protect access to medication abortion (we know that’s not true). He also insisted that yes, he killed Roe, but lied that killing Roe was “something that everybody wanted,” before claiming that leaving abortion up to the states is a moderate, compromise position. (This, as I’ve written about at length, is bullshit; every dehumanizing horror story of pregnant people terrorized by these laws is happening right now, with states deciding on the issue.) Instead, Trump said that Roe and a federal right to abortion are extreme because this allows doctors to “take the life of the baby in the ninth month, and even after birth.” So-called abortion “after birth” is, mind you, infanticide, which is illegal. 

Being generous, if Trump was referring to later abortions, Biden could and should have offered important clarification that this can arise (quite rarely) in cases of medical emergencies or other complex situations. Instead, Biden seemed to embrace anti-abortion stigma: “We are not for late-term abortion period, period, under Roe,” he said. 

Biden does at some point mumble about Trump’s infanticide bullshit being untrue. But the most he can do to counter is seemingly stigmatize abortions later in pregnancy, instead of meaningfully challenging Trump on such a dangerous lie. 

Democrats have been treating abortion as their north star this election cycle since abortion rights are vastly popular—and certainly more popular than Biden himself, according to every poll and reproductive rights-related ballot measure that’s taken place since the fall of Roe. But even before the debate, the Biden administration has struggled to offer tangible relief to the millions trapped living under abortion bans for over two years now, all while Biden himself has, on several occasions, emphasized his personal disdain for the health care service. His best prayer of winning this election against Trump—the proud Roe-killer who’s suggested he’ll restrict birth control and let states surveil and punish abortion patients—is differentiating himself from Trump on abortion. Welp, it’ll be pretty hard to do that if he can barely talk about abortion.

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