Biden defends abortion rights after leak of Supreme Court draft striking down Roe v. Wade

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a memorial service for former Vice President Walter Mondale in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., May 1, 2022. 
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

President Joe Biden on Tuesday reacted to a leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion that would reverse the Roe v. Wade decision by calling on elected officials around the United States to protect women’s right to abortion.

“I believe that a woman’s right to choose is fundamental, Roe has been the law of the land for almost fifty years, and basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned,” Biden said in a statement.

Biden also called for the election of “more pro-choice Senators and a pro-choice majority in the House” this fall to pass federal legislation that would ensure the right to abortion.

The Democratic president’s statement came a day after a bombshell report by Politico about a draft of an opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on a case involving Mississippi’s restrictive new abortion law, which has been blocked by lower federal courts.

The leaked draft indicates that a majority of the Supreme Court has voted to overturn the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade ruling, along with another decision that affirmed there is a constitutional right to abortion.

If the substance of the opinion becomes the final ruling by the court, individual states could totally ban abortion, or much more severely limit that procedure currently allowed.

“We do not know whether this draft is genuine, or whether it reflects the final decision of the Court,” Biden said.

But Biden noted that his “administration argued strongly before the Court in defense of Roe v. Wade.

“We said that Roe is based on ‘a long line of precedent recognizing ‘the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty’… against government interference with intensely personal decisions,’ ” he said.

Biden also noted that shortly after Texas passed a law that bars abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, he had directed White House lawyers and his Gender Policy Council and White House Counsel’s Office “to prepare options for an Administration response to the continued attack on abortion and reproductive rights, under a variety of possible outcomes in the cases pending before the Supreme Court.”

“We will be ready when any ruling is issued,” Biden said.

If the Supreme Court overturns Roeit will fall on our nation’s elected officials at all levels of government to protect a woman’s right to choose,” he said.

“And it will fall on voters to elect pro-choice officials this November,” the president said

“At the federal level, we will need more pro-choice Senators and a pro-choice majority in the House to adopt legislation that codifies Roe, which I will work to pass and sign into law,” he said.

Biden’s statement, notably, did not say he supports ending the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, known as the filibuster rule, in order to pass legislation to protect abortion rights with just 50 votes in that chamber of Congress.

Democrats currently hold 48 Senate seats and have two independents who caucus with them, as well as a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris.

Biden has been under intense pressure to back a move to “blow up the filibuster” as it’s known in Washington, ever since it became clear that a challenge to Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban would be decided by the Supreme Court, and that the protections guaranteed by Roe would likely be either gutted or struck down completely.

But even if Biden were to agree to back a change to the filibuster rule so that the Senate could pass a bill enshrining abortion protections into law with just a simple majority, it is far from certain he would get even the 50 Senate votes he would need to do so.

With the Senate split evenly between Republicans and Democrats and independents, all 50 senators who caucus with the Democrats would need to back filibuster reform and an abortion protection bill.

This spring, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin voted against proceeding on a bill called the Women’s Health Protection Act, which was seen as a trial balloon for how an abortion protection bill would fare among Democrats.

Democrats hold a slim majority in the House of Representatives, where a simple majority is needed to pass legislation.

Before Monday’s report by Politico, there was widespread concern among Democrats about losing their majorities in both chambers of Congress in this fall’s election.

While there is outrage among Democrats about the contents of the leaked draft by Alito, there was also hope that voters would be more motivated to support their party in the upcoming elections because of the possibility Roe v. Wade will be undone.

A political party that holds the White House routinely suffers significant losses in midterm elections for congressional seats.