Joe Biden is not the person I would have chosen to be leading the nation when Roe v. Wade was overturned. Until earlier this month, he reportedly had never publicly uttered the word “abortion” while serving as president. When he finally did, in response to the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, I wished he hadn’t: He awkwardly alluded to the Supreme Court taking away the freedom of women to “choose to abort a child.”
As we hurtle toward the official release of the Supreme Court’s decision, he’s going to have to figure out how to effectively say something. Biden may not be able to pull off the same speech Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren might muster under such circumstances, but there are words this president can use to meet this moment while staying authentically within himself.
Here’s an idea of how he could start:
“Nobody ever dreams of having an abortion. Not the 16-year-old who was raped by her uncle, not the mother of five who can’t afford a sixth, not the college student who missed a few birth control pills, or the victim of domestic violence whose partner prevented her from taking birth control pills, or the 45-year-old who thought she no longer needed birth control pills.
“Abortion is a solution that a woman finds herself seeking only when something else in her life has already gone cataclysmically wrong. And whether she was always pro-choice or always believed herself to be antiabortion, by the time she sets foot in a clinic, she has one thing in common with every other patient there: She didn’t spend her life dreaming of this. She didn’t make her decision lightly.
“It’s no secret I have struggled with this issue. I am a faithful Catholic. And I know what it means to be a parent: the pride, the pain. I know life is precious. When it comes to abortion, I have found it difficult to sort out what I believe and to find the right words to convey those beliefs. I am, as Moses said, slow of speech and tongue. For nearly 50 years, nearly the entirety of my political career, I have not had to find exactly the right words, because abortion was a settled legal right.
“But now a draft opinion has leaked from the Supreme Court, which would drastically limit the ability of women in this country to end their pregnancies. I am speaking out now, because I was elected to serve this nation, and serving this nation means wrestling with what freedoms we should have, who is allowed to give them to us and who is allowed to deny them.
“The Americans who wrote our Constitution 235 years ago were lawyers and scientists, merchants and farmers, all dreaming a new country into existence. They were as young as 26 and as old as 81. At the end of three months of work, in the summer of 1787, these 39 men signed their names to the first draft of their dream and launched the democracy that we all fight for and live in and wrestle with today. Thirty-nine men.
“The leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court hinges on the idea that the right to an abortion is not ‘deeply rooted in our history and traditions,’ that it does not appear in the Constitution. Another word that does not appear in our Constitution is ‘woman.’ Not once. Neither does ‘pregnancy’ or ‘motherhood.’ Our founders imagined a new country, but for all their brilliance, they did not imagine a country in which women would be full citizens. They were not accountable to the complexities of women’s experiences. This was a long, long time ago, a different time.
“Talking about abortion means being aware of the relationship of women to America’s history and traditions. How we as a country have viewed their bodies, their agency, their personhood. America did not allow women to vote, nationally, until 1920. It wasn’t until 1973 that women could serve on juries in all 50 states and 1974 that a married woman could obtain a credit card without her husband’s signature.
“We talk about abortion as if it is a matter of life, and it is. It is a matter of women’s lives. It is a matter of what kind of life a woman will be able to build for herself today, and for her family, and for her community. Abortion is also a matter of family life. It is a matter for every husband who cares about his wife and her well-being, and the life they will build together. It is a matter for every child that a woman already has, who deserve to have a loving, present and financially stable mother.
“For many of you, it is also an issue of the potential lives of embryos and fertilized eggs. The question of when life truly begins is, in the end, a mystery of God.
“What I do know is that America is not a theocracy, and when it comes to mysteries that are beyond the scope of human judgment, we must err on the side of personal freedom and bodily autonomy. What I do know is that complex, life-changing decisions are best made by the people who will be most intimately affected by them. Not by strangers, and certainly not by the government.
“The question we each must ask ourselves is not, ‘When does life begin?’ but rather, ‘Do you think it is the government’s business to decide when life begins?’ Do you think that the government knows better, in every circumstance, than a woman’s doctor? Than a woman’s own priest or pastor? Than a woman’s spouse or partner? Than your daughter, your sister, your wife?
“Or do you believe, as I do, that the government’s business is encompassed in the words that the Constitution does include: promoting ‘general Welfare’ and securing the ‘Blessings of Liberty’ for each American?
“That is the true power of government in America: the power to let people choose their own destiny. If you believe that, then we can begin talking about how to create a society that is truly pro-life. We can create a pro-life America that makes it easier for the women who want children to birth those children. We can create a pro-life America by requiring employers to give mothers and fathers paid parental leave. By offering free preschool and subsidized child care for parents who want to provide for their children by going to work. By nurturing life as we know it.
“The issue of abortion will never be resolved to everyone’s liking. We will never reach complete consensus and peace. But forcing women to bear children against their will is not the answer. Outlawing abortion will not eliminate abortions. They will still happen, at great cost to women and to families. There will be more suffering. It is not the Christian thing to do. It is not the American thing to do. We must limit suffering. We must pass national legislation protecting this necessary and lifesaving medical procedure.
“Nobody looks forward to having an abortion. The women who live in this country — the women whom our forefathers did not even bother to imagine — each and every one of them has hopes, dreams and plans for her life. And none of them, as little girls, ever dreamed of having an abortion.
“It is on us now, each of us, to reimagine America again, just as the 39 men who once signed our Constitution. But this time, we can remake it with empathy and curiosity for all of our citizens. And in doing so, we will be emphatically and joyfully choosing life.”