Voices: Why Joe Biden’s refusal to say ‘abortion’ is a problem for Democrats

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President Joe Biden  (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
President Joe Biden (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The abortion battle in Washington DC has long been a game of euphemisms, but the Biden administration has taken that game to new heights entirely.

With the Supreme Court looking poised to overturn decades of precedent establishing abortion as a protected medical practice and right in the United States, supporters of the Roe v Wade precedent — by most polling, about two-thirds of the country — is looking to the Democratic Party for a response.

But that response from the Biden White House this past two weeks has been both predictable and unsatisfactory for abortion rights supporters. The administration threw its support behind the doomed-from-the-start effort to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which failed 49-51 on Wednesday, and has called for the election of “more pro-choice leaders” in November and in the future in the hopes that the codification of abortion rights into federal law can happen some day down the line.

On the left, the calls for the president to embrace the “bully pulpit” and lean into his role as agenda-setter are growing. At the top of that list for supporters of abortion rights are calls for the Catholic President Biden to actually begin using the word “abortion” in both public remarks and speeches, and to do more as campaigner-in-chief to both hammer moderate Republicans on the issue and convince Democrats like Joe Manchin, who opposed the vote on Wednesday, to fall in line.

Mr Biden has used the word once since taking office, and not in a way that exactly thrilled any of his supporters. Speaking to reporters minutes after the Supreme Court’s draft opinion that would overturn Roe was released, he said: “The idea that we’re going to make a judgment that is going to say that no one can make the judgment to choose to abort a child based on a decision by the Supreme Court, I think, goes way overboard.”

Another gaffe for the slipup-prone Mr Biden, who unwittingly embraced the anti-abortion right’s claim that abortion involves the murder of a child. In reality, the vast majority of abortions in America occur before a fetus can live outside of the mother.

The president’s near-total refusal to even mention the word “abortion” is becoming somewhat of a joke made from irritation among abortion rights supporters; a website, didbidensayabortionyet.org, is tracking how long it takes Mr Biden to say the word publicly and notes that it has apparently just appeared once in all statements released by the Biden White House since January 2021. The same hesitancy has not been shared by Mr Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki, part of a historic all-women press team, but the president’s words hold much greater weight both for activists and voters.

And it’s not just activists who are growing impatient. Many Democrats are looking for an issue to shake up a narrative that seems to be trending towards an impending resurgence of the GOP in November’s midterms, and are hoping abortion can be that wedge factor that drives younger voters and women to the polls.

“I do think that he should say it more,” Rep Cori Bush, a congresswoman from the St Louis area, told HuffPost in an interview.

Ms Bush is one of a number of Democratic members of Congress who have taken a much different route than the White House by openly and frequently discussing the issue in an effort to break the stigma around the procedure itself. The Missouri congresswoman shared her abortion experience to reporters and supporters last year, explaining how she sought an abortion after being raped.

Now with the midterms approaching faster than ever the president’s hesitancy is leading many to question whether Democrats can effectively run on the issue and galvanise Americans who want to see Roe enshrined in federal law to hit the polls.

Until the White House (and the president in particular) get serious about championing the fight to protect abortion rights, the calls from both abortion rights activists around the country and his fellow Democrats seeking to hold on to their seats and protect their majorities in the House and Senate are going to be the same as what demonstrators chanted outside of the Supreme Court last week: “Where is Joe?”

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