Biden Gives Strong, Rare Speech About Abortion Ahead of the Midterms

He urged voters to remember how they felt the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and to take that righteous anger to the polls.

Biden Gives Strong, Rare Speech About Abortion Ahead of the Midterms
President Joe Biden speaks about abortion access on Tuesday. Photo:Patrick Semansky (AP)

On Tuesday, with exactly three weeks until the midterm elections, President Joe Biden said in a speech that if Democrats maintain control of the House of Representatives and expand their majority in the Senate, the first bill he would send to Congress would be one that codifies the protections of Roe v. Wade into federal law.

“The only sure way to stop these extremist laws that are putting in jeopardy women’s health and rights is for Congress to pass a law. And I’ve said before: The court got Roe right nearly 50 years ago,” he said. “I think Congress should codify Roe once and for all. Right now, we’re short a handful of votes. If you care about the right to choose then you gotta vote. That’s why these midterm elections are so critical to elect more Democratic senators to the United States Senate and more Democrats to keep control of the House.”

He urged voters to remember how they felt on the June day the Supreme Court overturned Roe and to take that righteous anger to the polls. “The anger, the worry, the disbelief. The unbelievable fact that, for the first time in our history, the Supreme Court didn’t just fail to preserve a constitutional freedom, it actually took away a right that was so fundamental to Americans.”

Democrats are currently slightly favored to maintain control of the Senate, but Republicans are favored to regain control of the House, according to projections from FiveThirtyEight.

The bill to codify Roe is called the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) and it passed the House—but not the Senate—earlier this year. In the months since the court overturned Roe, Democrats have pleaded with voters to “send us two more senators” in the fall so they can fix abortion access and all manner of problems. However, the WHPA cannot land on Biden’s desk without Democrats keeping control of the House, which Biden noted today.

He also reminded voters that if Republicans take power, they want to pass a nationwide abortion ban—which he said he would veto. (In a move that is unfortunately notable for Biden, he actually used the word “abortion,” too.)

Abortion is currently banned in 13 states and red state legislatures will pass even more restrictions when they reconvene in January. Codifying Roe would block these bans.

Democrats technically control the Senate thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ ability to cast the tie-breaking vote, but non-budgetary legislation has to pass by 60 votes thanks to the continuation of the filibuster. Conservative Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) have refused to end the 60-vote threshold, which has doomed not only the effort to codify Roe, but other party priorities like paid family leave. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Biden reversed his own stance and called for ending the filibuster, but he did not mention the matter on Tuesday.

In his speech, Biden addressed younger voters directly, saying their votes in 2020 lead to Democrats passing $360 billion to fight climate change and the biggest gun control law in 30 years. He also noted that the application for student debt forgiveness had gone live—and that 4 million people have already applied—and touted his recommendation that states release people imprisoned for marijuana possession. “We know there’s much more progress that needs to be made. And we know that there remains real obstacles,” he said. “In 2020, you voted to deliver the change you wanted to see in the world. In 2022, you need to exercise your power to vote again for the future of our nation and the future generation.”

The end of Roe doesn’t just affect young people, Biden said: It also harms children, moms, and family members of all ages, and the court’s decision puts the broader right to privacy at risk—including the right to use birth control and and to marry who you want, rights that Justice Clarence Thomas singled out as targets in June.

He outlined, in detail, the practical impacts the end of Roe has had in just the past few months: “Today in America, there are women who have been turned away from emergency rooms while having miscarriages—losing wanted pregnancies—told they need to wait until they’re sicker before they get the care they need. There are survivors of rape and incest who’ve been denied access to health services in their home states and have been forced to travel to states that do provide that care. There’s so much confusion and uncertainty that doctors and nurses fear they could face criminal charges for just doing their job responsibly. Patients are being denied prescriptions that they’ve been taking for years for conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, because pharmacies are concerned they can also be used to terminate a pregnancy.”

“I want you to remember that the final say does not rest in the court now. It does not rest with extremist Republicans in Congress,” Biden said. “Your right to choose rests with you. If you do your part and vote Democratic leaders [into] Congress, I promise you, we’ll do our part. I’ll do my part.”

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