The Biden administration has managed to largely avoid the subject of abortion—and in fact even the word abortion—for months. But even though Biden has finally made a clear statement about abortion access in light of the six-week ban that went into effect in Texas on Wednesday, he still somehow managed to say nothing.
On Wednesday, Biden released a statement calling the law, SB 8, an “extreme” violation of the “constitutional right established under Roe v. Wade and upheld as precedent for nearly half a century.” He also highlighted an “outrageous” provision that deputizes private citizen to enforces the law, and encourages them to file lawsuits against anyone they suspect of having facilitating an abortion after the six-week mark. (People who provide abortions or otherwise facilitate abortion care—clinic staff, abortion funds, friends or family members who drive patients to clinics—are also targeted by the law.)
“The Texas law will significantly impair women’s access to the health care they need, particularly for communities of color and individuals with low incomes,” Biden said. “My administration is deeply committed to the constitutional right established in Roe v. Wade nearly five decades ago and will protect and defend that right.”
With these words, Biden echoed his 2020 campaign trail promise to “codify Roe v. Wade,” a strategy for enshrining abortion rights in federal law; the Biden White House affirmed their commitment to codifying Roe as recently as May of this year. But while Biden’s commitment to Roe is important for abortion access in the United States, the abortion rights movement has seen little movement from the administration around this issue, and Wednesday’s statement hardly offered any promises of concrete action.
It’s clear that Roe—and even “codifying” Roe—is not enough. The reporting coming out of Texas portrays a post-Roe world in a country where Roe is still technically on the books. On Tuesday alone—the eve of SB 8's implementation—the scene at Whole Woman’s Health in Fort Worth was frantic: 67 abortions were performed in a 17 hour period, and not everyone who showed up was lucky.
From 19th News:
One young woman arrived at her first appointment to the clinic that same night. She was a drug user, she told Sadler, and set to begin serving a five-year prison sentence in a week. She already had three children at home. She didn’t want to deliver a baby in jail.
She dropped to her knees on the cold tile floor in front of Sadler, begging her to take her, to perform the abortion.
In Texas, patients have to wait 24 hours after their first appointment to get an abortion. The woman was 12 weeks pregnant, and on Wednesday, she’d be too far along to get the procedure.
And as Jezebel reported, this last-minute rush shows that accessing an abortion in the U.S. is often a matter of economics—people who can’t afford to travel out of state for abortion care may not be able to get an abortion:
Jezebel spoke with a 21-year-old woman, Jen*, a sex worker and employee at a Texas donut shop, who learned she was eight weeks pregnant last week. (Jen is a pseudonym Jezebel is using because she fears reprisal from anti-abortion activists.)
After being turned away from nearly every abortion clinic in her area—all of which were booked with patients desperate for appointments—Jen finally got through to Houston Women’s Clinic, which performed an abortion for her mere hours ahead of Wednesday’s deadline.
Jen said if the clinic hadn’t had a last-minute opening, she wouldn’t have been able to afford to travel out of state, and she was sick with worry that she would’ve had to continue the pregnancy.
While President Biden’s disgust at this state of affairs is appreciated, a plan forward would be even better. What will he, Vice President Harris, and the Democrats in the House and Senate do to make sure abortion rights aren’t squandered further?
For starters, he might move to expand the Supreme Court and pack it with a slew of liberal judges in their 40s, or he and the Senate make moves to eliminate the filibuster. Ideally, both options would be on the table, but at the present, it doesn’t appear that either option is really getting taken seriously. Sure, Biden ordered a commission to study potential changes to the court, but has yet to explicitly support the idea of court-packing. And in July, Biden said that eliminating the filibuster would “throw the entire Congress into chaos.”
“Nothing at all will get done,” he warned CNN’s Don Lemon. “And there’s a lot at stake.”
Well, there’s a lot at stake already, and it’s only getting worse. Getting Senate Democrats to agree to get rid of the filibuster might be a seemingly insurmountable task thanks to the party’s moderates, but when even the president himself is reluctant for action, it’s hard to imagine any shift on the issue; Biden’s attitude is self-defeating.
There’s a lot we can do without elected officials. While abortion remains banned at six weeks in Texas—as the Supreme Court drags its feet on issuing a stay—grassroots abortion rights activists are working hard to get people the care they need. They too have the power to shift how we think and talk about this issue—because of them more people know that it’s possible to have a safe and effective abortion at home, with pills, in the absence of a clinic.
Nonetheless, it’s disappointing to see Democratic leaders let an issue that requires bold action pass by once again, and it’s maddening to watch the party in power act helpless. If not enough of them are brave enough to act on their promises, we’re going to get a lot more women crying on the cold floor of abortion clinics, and not only in Texas.