After a year that included the most devastating blow to reproductive autonomy in generations, President Joe Biden didn’t have a whole lot to say on the subject amid his sprawling remarks last night as he addressed the nation in the State of the Union.
“Here in the people’s House, it’s our duty to protect all the people’s rights and freedoms.
Congress must restore the right, and the—Congress must restore the right that was taken away in Roe v. Wade and protect Roe v. Wade. Give every woman their constitutional right.
The vice president and I are doing everything to protect access to reproductive health care and safeguard patient safety. But already, more than a dozen states are enforcing extreme abortion bans.
Make no mistake about it: If Congress passes a national ban, I will veto it.”
While the president gets points from abortion advocates for actually saying the word “abortion” instead of hiding behind euphemisms, which contribute to abortion stigma, the lack of substance in this speech after the devastating loss of a human right is disappointing. “This is a breaking point for our nation—particularly for people worried about being criminalized for the outcomes of their pregnancies or who have to travel several states over for healthcare,” abortion storytellers with We Testify, an advocacy group led by Renee Bracey Sherman, said in a statement. “We wish that President Biden used his State of the Union address to make clear what he plans to do to expand abortion access for all across this nation. Instead, we heard four sentences that didn’t begin to encapsulate the horrific climate right now.”
In his address, Biden made only one concrete promise: to veto a national ban on abortion should it pass through Congress. It is extremely unlikely that such a ban could make it to his desk in the first place—the votes simply aren’t there.
It is true that the Biden administration hasn’t chosen to sit back and do nothing during this crisis. Since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, President Biden has signed two executive orders pertaining to abortion rights. The first, in July, directed the Department of Health and Human Services to “take action” to protect access to medication abortion, a two-medication regimen that the FDA recently approved for distribution in retail pharmacies (albeit with several caveats). The second executive order, signed in August, asks HHS to come up with ways to expand insurance coverage for patients who must travel out of state for reproductive health care. Both orders received criticism from abortion advocates for their lack of clarity.
First Lady Jill Biden, for her part, invited a Texas woman who endured direct harm as a result of the state’s abortion law to be her guest at the address. Amanda Zurawski’s water broke at 18 weeks, before any possibility of viability. The hospital she went to for care refused to treat her until she became septic because there is no legal distinction between miscarriage management and abortion. Zurawski’s case is far from unique in our post-Dobbs America. Amid such horrific human rights abuses, the glancing acknowledgment from the President was not enough. Not even close.