President Biden on Tuesday sought to refocus the upcoming midterm elections on the debate over abortion rights, pledging to push for a bill to codify abortion access if Democrats add to their majorities in Congress.
Biden, in remarks at Washington, D.C.’s Howard Theatre, warned of dire consequences for access to reproductive health if Republicans win majorities in the House and Senate.
“The final say does not rest in the court now. It does not rest with extreme Republicans in Congress,” he said. “It rests with you.”
The speech at a Democratic National Committee event came three weeks before the midterms as some polls indicate voters are more concerned about the economy.
The president said he wants to sign a bill to codify Roe v. Wade on the 50-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision on Jan. 22, 1973, when, he noted, he was a 30-year-old first-term senator. The 50th anniversary would be just days after a new Congress is sworn in.
“Together, we’ll restore the right to choose for every woman in every state in America. So vote. You gotta get out the vote. We can do this if we vote,” Biden said.
Passing a bill through Congress to codify Roe v. Wade is dependent on Democrats retaining the House, which has always looked like an uphill climb, and increasing their Senate majority, which could allow Democrats to change the rules surrounding the filibuster.
New polls have suggested that Democrats are losing momentum in their effort to gain seats in the Senate.
The president, in his remarks, also voiced his support for other hot-button issues for young voters, including his plan for widespread student loan forgiveness, and said that “he’s keeping his promise” that people shouldn’t be in jail for using and possessing marijuana. He added that, with another Democratic majority in Congress, he wants to ban assault weapons.
Democrats have tried to make abortion access and reproductive rights a central part of the midterm campaign in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June decision striking down the decades-long precedent set by Roe v. Wade protecting a woman’s right to choose.
The party has repeatedly highlighted state laws that dramatically restrict abortion access, and the president and others have pointed to GOP congressional proposals to enact a nationwide ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy to underscore what’s at stake in November.
“If Republicans get their way with a national ban, it won’t matter where you live in America,” Biden said.
Biden sought to remind voters on Tuesday of the anger that convulsed swaths of the country after the Supreme Court decision was first announced in June. But he highlighted a portion of the majority opinion in which Justice Samuel Alito noted women are not without electoral power to enact changes.
“Let me tell you something the court and the extreme Republicans who have spent decades trying to overturn Roe are about to find out,” Biden said to cheers from the crowd.
“Come this November, we’re going to see what happens all over America, God willing,” he added.
While Democrats have tried to push abortion to the center of the national discussion heading into November’s elections, polls have shown most voters are more concerned about the economy, and rising prices in particular.
Democrats are facing headwinds with independent women, in particular, who they worry could now be more focused on gas prices and inflation than abortion.
A New York Times-Siena College poll released Monday showed 44 percent of voters cited the economy as the most pressing issue facing the country.
Vice President Harris has made abortion access a key focus in recent months and has been traveling around the country to meet with local leaders and reproductive rights advocates. And first lady Jill Biden has spoken about abortion access at fundraisers lately as well, adding personal stories about living through the pre-Roe era.
Biden himself consistently notes in speeches to donors the risk of a Republican majority passing a nationwide abortion ban, saying that he would use the power of the veto to ensure it does not become law.
But Tuesday’s speech marked the first time in weeks Biden had delivered a political address specifically focused on the issue of abortion.
“I don’t read this as @potus realizing he should have come out earlier, the absolute outrage about Dobbs was at a peak all summer,” former White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted. “He is trying to re-insert women’s rights back into debate on campaign trail given energy around it has waned because of concerns about the economy.”