What President Biden’s State of the Union Says About the Politics of Abortion
Following abortion rights groups’ efforts to For President Joe Biden to speak out for reproductive rights in America. The President briefly mentioned the subject on Tuesday in his inaugural State of the Union speech.
“The constitutional right affirmed by Roe v. Wade—standing precedent for half a century—is under attack as never before,” Biden said during the speech. “If we want to go forward, not backward, we must protect access to health care. Preserve a woman’s right to choose.”
It’s no surprise that Biden did not dwell on the issue. Biden skipped over a slew of pressing issues in his nearly hour-long speech, such as the escalating conflict in Europe and increasing inflation. But as other top Democratic Party leaders rush to make abortion rights a central campaign issue, the President’s general hesitance to discuss the topic—he has not uttered the word abortion in any speech since entering the White House—offers a glimpse into his political advisers’ thinking.
Learn More Abortion Rights Advocates Call for Biden to Do More
A Supreme Court case is pending and could be overturned or unwind. Roe v. WadeThe 1973 abortion ruling was enacted and Republican-led state legislatures have been working hard to limit abortion at the state level. Federal and state Democratic legislators are now focusing on access to abortion in their political messages. The pollsters saw an increase in a Interest rates riseIn the issue following Texas’ controversial abortion ban after six weeks of last fall.n Monday, Senate Democrats held a show vote on the Women’s Health Protection ActA bill to codify Roe v. WadeTo show voters they are moving to defend abortion rights,
Just before Biden’s speech began Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand took the unusual step of directly encouraging Chief Justice John Roberts—who is seen as Democrats’ main hope for influencing the other conservative Supreme Court justices—to “uphold precedent” Referring to AbortionAccording to Politico.
Biden’s relative silence on the issue is conspicuous in comparison.
Some abortion rights advocates say the President’s hesitancy is likely due in part to the stigma that surrounds it. “We need to stop equating people’s discomfort with talking about sex, sexuality, gender identity, abortion—all of these things—pregnancy, with the political opinions or where the country is at,” says Renee Bracey Sherman, executive director of We Testify, a group that aims to share the stories of people who’ve had abortions.
Another reason for Biden’s avoidance is likely because it’s a politically tricky issue, at least from an electoral perspective. Although According to polling, the majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in most cases—and public support for legal abortion has remained relatively stable for nearly 50 years—majority opinions do not win elections in America, thanks to both gerrymandering and the Electoral College.
The districts for state and Congressional legislative are drawn such that small numbers of voters can have greater power than the entire electorate. Therefore, states with smaller populations (like Montana) get equal representation in Senate, as do states with larger populations, such as California. This is how Democrats win elections: Democrats have to gain the support of voters, not just their own. The majority Democrats. But of Democratic and Independent votes in certain swing districts, within specific swing states. A Pew Research survey in 2020 found that three in 10 Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents disagreed with their party on abortion, and among voters without a college education—a key demographic that helped Biden in rust belt states in the 2020 election—some 42% of Democrats or those who lean Democratic disagreed with the party on abortion.
“The American public supports access to abortion,” Bracey Sherman says. “The only reason it’s, quote unquote politically divisive, is because of gerrymandering.”
Campaign issue: Abortion is rising
Still, abortion access has become a key issue for Democrats in the last few years, notes Joshua Wilson, a political science professor at the University of Denver and author of “The New States of Abortion Politics.” Abortion has flipped from being a topic more likely to motivate conservatives who oppose it to being motivating for Democrats, Wilson says, thanks in large part to former President Donald Trump, who implemented policies to curtail abortion rights and nominated three conservative Supreme Court justices after promising voters he would choose justices who would overturn Roe.
“Abortion has risen in priority as an issue for Democratic voters since the Trump years, and that’s really important in terms of thinking about what are Democrats’ options in getting voters’ attention,” Wilson says.
Democrats look forward to the Supreme Court’s decision. To increase their base’s energy. “The Supreme Court is going to make it relevant. It’s going to end up being a very vivid contrast in most of these races,” says Celinda Lake, a Democratic strategist and top pollster for Biden during the 2020 presidential election. “If anything, candidates should be campaigning more on it, not less.”
Learn More Roe v. Wade: Justices Seem Poised
Lake expects the issue to be particularly effective at mobilizing young women voters and suburban women Baby Boomers—another key demographic that Democrats hope to reach—because the older women remember a time before Roe v. Wade. “That’s not a totally idle threat in their mind,” she says.
The party in power usually has the advantage during midterm elections. And Republicans who oppose abortion are certainly hoping the Supreme Court’s decision will motivate their own supporters to vote on the issue this year. Sean Trende is a senior election analyst with RealClearPolitics, and also a fellow at The conservative American Enterprise Institute. He agrees that Republicans may face problems regarding the abortion issue. “Especially in these suburban areas where Republicans are trying to make a comeback, it could be a challenging scenario,” Trende says.
The challenges for Democrats, meanwhile, will include keeping voters’ attention on the issue, convincing them that the situation is as urgent as activists say, and making people care about the topic even if they don’t live in a state that is currently restricting access to abortion. B Take a poll of 1,500 voters at the end of last year from Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List and American Bridge, which support abortion rights, found that while most voters supported keeping Roe v. WadeOnly 33% of respondents believed that the Supreme Court would actually overturn the decision.
Learn More States push new abortion bans to overthrow the Supreme Court
An evolving issue
These are the last months. Republican-controlled states have rushed to pass aggressive laws limiting abortion before the Supreme Court rules. Several states are moving bills modeled on Texas’ six-week ban, with Idaho and Oklahoma likely to pass such bans soon, and other states including Florida, Arizona, and West Virginia are aiming to pass laws banning abortion after 15 weeks. Democrats note that abortion opponents don’t want to stop there. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of abortion opponents, RoeAbout half of the US would ban abortion right away or very quickly. Additional laws could be passed to restrict it further.
“It’s not going to be hard to close that believability gap because we see it happening in real time,” says Jacqueline Ayers, senior vice president of policy, organizing, and campaigns at Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “Now we are in a place where people are able to see state legislators are actively working to remove people’s access. It’s no longer a Texas issue. It’s multiple states.”
Advocates for abortion rights argue that this potential outcome makes it more crucial for Democrats at all levels and the White House to address the topic of reproductive rights.
“Republicans stand for totally banning abortion with no exceptions. There is no legal abortion. That’s not a popular stance in any state in the country,” says Kristin Ford, vice president of communications and research at NARAL. “Being really clear and bold about how to communicate to the American public about what’s happening and what the solutions are is also going to become just increasingly important.”