With Democrats’ congressional majorities at risk this November, Joe Biden vowed on Tuesday that the first bill he sent to Capitol Hill next year would codify Roe v Wade – if Americans return his party to power with wide enough margins to pass abortion protections.
It’s a major lift for Democrats, who face a challenging political environment marked by a rocky economy and decades-high inflation. But the loss of abortions rights has sparked a political backlash, motivating Democratic voters and women more broadly who have registered to vote in significant numbers since the supreme court’s decision to overturn Roe in Dobbs v Jackson.
“I’m asking the American people to remember how you felt that day the extreme Dobbs decision came down and Roe was overturned after 50 years,” Biden said during remarks at an event hosted by the Democratic National Committee at the Howard Theater in Washington. “The anger, the worry, the disbelief.”
“If you care about the right to choose,” he added, “then you gotta vote”.
Standing in front of a banner that read “Restore Roe”, the president cast the election as a choice between Republicans who would seek to impose a nationwide ban on abortion and Democrats who have vowed to protect reproductive rights.
“If Republicans get their way with a national ban it won’t matter where you live in America,” Biden said, vowing to veto such a bill if it reached his desk.
All or most abortions are banned in at least 14 US states, with several more engaged in legal battles to restrict access. The White House estimates that 26.5 million women of reproductive age live in states with bans or severe restrictions.
With weeks left before the midterm elections, the White House and Democrats have increasingly focused their campaign message on protecting abortion, an issue they hope will galvanize women and independent voters.
Clear majorities of Americans believe abortion should remian legal and dissapprove of the supreme court’s decision. Yet polling consistently shows that voters’ top priority this election is the economy and inflation, issues that play to Republicans’ strengths. Biden’s approval rating remains low, which is a drag on vulnerable Democratic candidates.
But Biden predicted that women would punish Republicans for enacting abortions bans and restrictions.
“The Dobbs decision … practically dares women to go ahead, lead and be heard,” he said, pointing to Kansas, where voters in the conservative state decisively defeated a Republican-led effort to strip away abortion rights. “Come this November we’re going to see what happens all over America.”
Biden said the only way to “stop these extremist laws that are putting in jeopardy women’s health” is for Congress to codify abortion rights at the federal level. But he conceded that presently “we’re short a handful of votes” to do so and urged Americans to elect more Democrats next month.
“If we do that, here’s the promise I make to you and the American people: the first bill that I will send to the Congress will be to codify Roe v Wade,” he said. “And when Congress passes it, I’ll sign it in January, 50 years after Roe was first decided the law of the land.”
Even if Democrats were able to overcome historical and political headwinds to keep both majorities in Congress, it may not be enough to enshrine the 1973 supreme court ruling into law. The Senate would need to abolish the filibuster, or create an exception to the rule requiring 60 votes to advance most legislation in the chamber. Two moderate Democrats have already voiced their opposition to amending the filibuster.
Earlier this summer, Biden, an institutionalist long resistant to changing parliamentary procedures, announced his support for ending the filibuster to guarantee a women’s right to an abortion under pressure from Democrats demanding a stronger response from their party’s leader. The administration has also taken additional steps to protect access to the procedure.
Biden stressed that the new legal landscape was already causing chaos and harm for patients and providers. Victims of rape and incest were being forced to travel out-of-state to receive an abortion, he said, while doctors fear the repercussions of intervening in instances with life-threatening pregnancies.
Patients having miscarriages have reported delayed or denied care as a result of the new laws and other patients say they have been denied medication for certain conditions because the drugs could also be used to terminate a pregnancy.
He also said that the Dobbs decision “risks the border right to privacy for everyone,” threatening same-sex marriage other fundamental rights.
He also appealed directly to young people who tend to vote at lower rates than their older counterparts. Praising their turnout in 2020, he reminded them of his decisions to forgive billions of dollars in student-loan debt and to issue pardons for thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession –actions that were popular among young people.
“Your generation will not be ignored, will not be shunned and will not be silent,” Biden said, adding: “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 of your generation.”