Biden makes abortion legislation his top priority next year

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President Joe Biden speaks about the beta testing of the Student Debt Relief Portal in the South Court Auditorium of the White House complex in Washington on October 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden vowed on Tuesday that the first bill he sends to Capitol Hill next year will be the one that codifies Roe vs. Wade — if Democrats control enough congressional seats for Biden to sign anti-corruption protections. abortion in the law – in a speech intended to energize his party. voters just three weeks before November’s midterm elections.

“If you care about the right to choose, then you have to vote,” Biden said during a speech at the Howard Theater in Washington. He urged those present to remember how they felt when the Supreme Court in late June overturned the landmark 1973 ruling legalizing abortion and repeatedly lambasted Republicans around the country who called for restrictions on the procedure, often without exception.

Biden said “the only sure way to stop these extremist laws that endanger women’s health and rights is for Congress to pass legislation.” He acknowledged that right now “we’re a handful of votes short” to restore abortion protections at the federal level, urging voters to send more Democrats to Congress.

“If we do this, here is my promise to you and to the American people: the first bill I will send to Congress will be to codify Roe v. Wade,” Biden said. “And when Congress passes it, I will sign it in January, 50 years after Roe was first ruled the law of the land.”

That’s a big if.

Democrats have tried repeatedly in this Congress to enshrine abortion rights in law, only to be thwarted by the GOP’s filibuster and their own members’ reluctance to change Senate rules. This dynamic is likely to persist no matter what happens in the November elections.

Abortion rights have been a key motivating factor for Democrats this year, though the economy and inflation remain the top concern for most voters.

For the White House, retaining control of both houses of Congress, already an uphill battle, will not be enough to be able to enshrine Roe’s protections in law. The Senate should abolish the filibuster, the legislative rule that requires 60 votes for most bills to advance to the chamber, in order to pass an abortion measure by a simple majority of senators.

Long resistant to any revisions to the Senate’s institutional rules, Biden said in the days following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe in Dobbs v. Jackson that he would support eliminating this supermajority threshold for abortion bills, just as he has on suffrage legislation. .

But two moderate Democrats – Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, Ariz., and Joe Manchin, W.Va. — support keeping the filibuster. Sinema said she wanted to keep the filibuster so that any Republican-backed abortion restrictions would face a much tougher hurdle in the Senate.

Democratic Senate candidates from Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – the party’s two best chances to reverse seats currently held by Republicans – have both said they support ending the filibuster in order to pass legislation on abortion. Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman has actively campaigned to be the 51st vote on priorities including legalizing abortion, codifying same-sex marriage protections and facilitating worker unionization — all measures that would otherwise be blocked by a filibuster in the Senate.

Abortion — and proposals by some Republicans to impose restrictions on the procedure nationwide — have been an integral part of Biden’s policy rhetoric this election cycle, as Democrats seek to energize voters in a difficult midterm season for the ruling party in Washington.

In fundraisers and in political speeches, Biden has pledged to reject any abortion restrictions that may come to his desk in a GOP-controlled Congress. He also urged voters to bolster Democratic ranks in the Senate so that enough senators not only support restoring abortion nationwide, but are willing to change Senate rules to do so.

“If you give me two more Democratic senators in the U.S. Senate, I promise you, I promise you we’ll codify Roe,” Biden said at a Democratic National Committee rally in Washington last month. “We will make Roe the law of the land again. And we will once again protect women’s right to choose.

On Tuesday, Biden made a pointed appeal to younger voters, who traditionally turn out at lower rates than other age demographics in midterm elections. Although his remarks focused primarily on abortion, Biden also mentioned his decisions to forgive billions of dollars in student loan debt and to issue pardons for marijuana possession — moves popular with younger voters.

“What I’m saying is you represent the best of us. Your generation will not be ignored, shunned or silenced,” Biden said, adding, “In 2020, you voted to bring the change you wanted to see in the world. In 2022, you must exercise your power to vote again for the future of our nation and the future of your generation.

Court rulings and state legislation have changed — and sometimes changed again — the status of abortion laws across the country. Currently, bans are in place on all stages of pregnancy in 12 states. In another, Wisconsin, clinics have stopped offering abortions although there is a dispute over whether a ban is in effect. In Georgia, abortion is banned as soon as heart activity is detected – usually around six weeks and before women often know they are pregnant.

Meanwhile, codifying Roe remains a widely popular position. In a July AP-NORC poll, 60% of American adults said they believe Congress should pass a law guaranteeing access to legal abortion nationwide.

Even with the economy dominating so much of the midterm talk, abortion has been a touchstone in top-tier competitions from Ohio to Arizona, especially as Democrats try to ensnare the Republicans between their most ardent anti-abortion grassroots voters who want absolute or nearly total bans and a majority of American adults who want at least legal access to elective abortions.

For example, in Georgia, Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker went so far in his only debate against Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, that he denied his previous support for a nationwide abortion ban with no exceptions. Despite Walker’s previous statements captured on video, he insisted that Warnock misrepresented his position. Walker said during the debate that he supports a Georgia law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy – an effective ban for some women because it’s so early they don’t yet know they’re pregnant. The law provides exceptions for subsequent abortions in cases of rape, incest and involving risks to a woman’s health.

Warnock, meanwhile, avoided direct questions about whether he would support limits on abortion, asking instead about Walker’s position.

Reporting by Seung Min Kim for The Associated Press.

Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, NJ, and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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