Joe Biden Doesn’t Want ‘Abortion on Demand,’ Which Is Actually Far More Popular Than He Is

Ironically, if anyone should be dodging the other to avoid being infected by their unpopularity, abortion should be dodging Biden.

Politics Joe Biden
Joe Biden Doesn’t Want ‘Abortion on Demand,’ Which Is Actually Far More Popular Than He Is

As his poll numbers continue to sink, President Biden’s reelection campaign has made clear they’re relying on the massive popularity of abortion rights to bail him out in 2024. Despite this, the president never seems to miss a chance to verbally throw abortion under the bus—like Wednesday night, when he spoke at a fundraising event in New York City. Among several baffling remarks (including referencing a 2021 conversation with a German leader who died in 2017), Biden declared, “I’m a practicing Catholic. I don’t want abortion on demand, but I thought Roe v. Wade was right.” It’s almost identical to a comment Biden made at another fundraiser last summer: “I’m a practicing Catholic. I’m not big on abortion. But guess what? Roe v. Wade got it right.”

First, I have to ask: What’s wrong with “abortion on demand” or being “big on abortion”? If every other medication or health service is available “on demand” (or it’s easily acknowledged that it should be), why not abortion, unless the goal is to perpetuate further stigma? After all, to not support “abortion on demand” is to support needless barriers to time-sensitive, urgent health care for pregnant people. “Abortion on demand” means getting abortion care when we seek it, which… sounds great, really! And contrary to Biden’s comments, as activists and health care providers have long stressed, Roe didn’t fully get it right: Even before the decision was reversed, too many people were left scrambling to access a legal health service, and there were still cases of people facing criminalization and even incarceration for having abortions or losing their pregnancies long before Roe was overturned.

Biden simply can’t have it both ways: He can’t run for the presidency with abortion as his centerpiece—a strategy that inherently recognizes that abortion is popular and many voters are “big on abortion”—while also using every opportunity he gets to further stigmatize it. Also, being Catholic isn’t really an excuse to hold shitty views on abortion, when many practicing Catholics do support abortion rights: In 2020, 68% of Catholic Americans said they opposed the overturning of Roe. A 2014 survey showed about a quarter of people who had abortions identified as Catholic.

And, of course, Biden’s invocation of religion is entirely selective. Last month, I spoke to demonstrators who disrupted Biden’s “Restore Roe” rally to protest Biden for aiding Israel in its horrific attacks on Gaza, which have led to widespread reproductive health crises. These have included c-sections without anesthetic, a 300% increase in miscarriages, and surging rates of infection and maternal and infant mortality. Renee Bracey Sherman, executive director of the reproductive justice organization We Testify, questioned how Biden’s Catholic faith “can apparently excuse 25,000 Palestinians killed” (the estimated death toll has since risen to at least 27,840 as of Thursday) and “ignore the Pope’s demands for a ceasefire.”

“Biden always touts his Catholic faith and pro-life views when he wants to stigmatize abortion but forgets about it when it comes to Gaza, immigration, poverty, and anything else,” Bracey Sherman wrote in a Thursday tweet about Biden’s comments. Biden’s reelection campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what the president meant by “abortion on demand,” nor whether it’s fair to sweepingly characterize Catholics as being hostile to abortion.

Yet, this is what we get from Biden time and time again. Even before becoming president, he cited his Catholicism on the campaign trail and identified as personally “pro-life,” clinging onto the Hyde Amendment (a budget rider that prohibits federal funding for most abortions) until the Democratic base all but forced him to let go in 2019. He rarely says the word “abortion,” opting instead for unhelpful euphemisms. Ironically, if anyone should be dodging the other to avoid being infected by their unpopularity, abortion should be dodging Biden. Abortion rights’ approval rating is much higher than Biden’s. Abortion and reproductive rights ballot measures have won in Ohio, Kansas, Montana, and other states that are either purple or just plain red, and outright rejected Biden in 2020.

The thing is, we clearly don’t need to tell Biden abortion is popular: He knows. That’s why he’s running on it, with rallies and hollow promises that if we just give him a Democratic Congress, he’ll take us right back to the glory days of the late 2010s, when abortion was legal but inaccessible. We can’t accept this bare minimum, though—and we definitely can’t accept abortion stigma.

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