The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Biden has put the forced-birth crusaders on notice

President Biden delivers remarks at an event at the White House on July 8. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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If there was any lingering doubts about President Biden’s commitment to abortion rights, he squashed them on Friday.

Biden slammed the Supreme Court, declaring that its decision to overturn abortion rights wasn’t "a constitutional judgment”; instead, he argued, it was "an exercise in raw political power.” And he brought the legal and historical receipts, accurately dinging the court for “playing fast and loose with the facts.” As he noted, “Even 150 years ago, the common law and many state laws did not criminalize abortion early in pregnancy, which is very similar to the viability line drawn by Roe.”

Biden was on target when he declared that "the court has made clear it will not protect the rights of women, period.” He added that the ruling "practically dares the women of America to go to the ballot box and restore the very rights they’ve just taken away.”

While Democrats and other defenders of women’s rights have been irate over Biden’s rhetorical reticence until now, there should be no argument that the immediate solution at the federal level is to produce Democratic majorities in the midterms that will codify Roe v. Wade and, in the Senate, carve out an exception for the filibuster to restore women’s fundamental rights. Biden has issued multiple executive orders on the issue, such as protecting interstate travel and access to FDA-approved abortion medication, but critics are off base in imagining there is some storehouse of executive powers that can override the Supreme Court and state law.

President Biden on July 8 issued an executive order to safeguard access to abortion medication and emergency contraception. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Biden is right that the best solution is to elevate the abortion issue in House and Senate elections (as Democrats in House and Senate races have hastened to do). He directed the country’s attention toward Republicans’ cruel efforts to impose abortion bans at the state level — and then take the crusade nationwide.

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“These are the laws that not only put women’s lives at risk, these are the laws that will cost lives,” he said. “And in a number of these states, the laws are so extreme they have raised the threat of criminal penalties for doctors and health care providers. They’re so extreme that many don’t allow for exceptions, even for rape or incest.” He showed real anger relaying the story of a 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio who was forced to go out of state to obtain an abortion. “I can’t think of anything as much more extreme,” he said.

Biden and Democrats are on strong ground politically in keeping the spotlight on this issue. A recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 65 percent of the country thinks abortion should be legal in all or most situations. The outlier is the GOP’s White, evangelical Protestant base, with only 25 percent of that demographic saying the same. “By contrast,” the poll reports, “64% of white Catholics, 69% of white mainline (nonevangelical) Protestants, 75% of Black Protestants, 75% of Hispanic Catholics, 82% of non-Christian religious Americans, and 84% of religiously unaffiliated Americans support abortion legality in most or all cases.”

Moreover, the intensity is on the abortion rights side:

In a substantial reversal, slightly more Americans who say abortion should be legal in most or all cases also say they will only vote for a candidate who shares their views (34%) than do those who say it should be illegal in most or all cases (31%). ...
The same trend is apparent by party affiliation, with Democrats becoming more activated on the issue. In the immediate aftermath of the Dobbs decision, 43% of Democrats say they will only vote for a candidate who shares their views on abortion, compared with 17% in the fall of 2020. Independents have become eleven percentage points more likely to say they will only vote for a candidate who shares their abortion views (25% vs. 14% in 2020), but Republicans have held steady (31% vs. 32% in 2020).

A recent Pew Research Center poll shows that, contrary to previous polling data, women are much more supportive of abortion rights than men. Poll director Jocelyn Kiley tells me, “In this new survey conducted July 27 to July 4, we find that two-thirds of women (66 percent) say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, compared with a narrower majority (57 percent) of men.” That’s a far cry form the last decade, when there was “little or no overall gender gap,” Kiley explains. Democrats would be smart to focus attention on women voters who now find themselves constitutionally in the world of 1868, as misinterpreted by the historically cherry-picked Dobbs decision.

The wave of forced-birth zealotry at the Supreme Court and in state legislatures exemplifies the Christian nationalist view that the government should impose religious values (e.g., personhood begins at conception) on others, regardless of decades of precedent and of modern America’s moral, social and political values. There is no better example than Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who declared on Thursday: “Today we wake up in a state where the church doors are open and the abortion clinic’s doors are closed. All the Glory to God the Father! Amen!”

This sentiment is utterly antithetical to the First Amendment and to our democratic commitment to a pluralistic society. The country will head further down the road of Christian nationalism unless the American people reject this theocratic crusade.

Biden is right in his assessment that neither the Supreme Court nor Republicans who have pushed their extreme agenda for decades “have a clue about the power of American women.” If Biden has correctly predicted that Americans will “turn out in record numbers to reclaim the rights” that the court obliterated, the midterm red wave Republicans banked on may evaporate. That’s what happens when they treat women like expendable incubators.

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