WASHINGTON — Calling the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade of a “tragic mistake,” President Biden on Friday tried to galvanize voters ahead of the midterm elections and called on Americans to “raise their voices.”
Speaking from the White House, Mr Biden said the Justice Department would defend any woman who traveled to another state to have an abortion and said the Department of Health and Human Services would ensure that abortion drugs are available.
But to truly protect a “constitutional right that is so fundamental,” Mr Biden said voters must elect candidates who will codify Roe v. Wade into federal law.
“This decision should not be the last word,” Biden said. “My administration will use all of its appropriate legal powers. Congress must act. And your vote? You can have the last word. It is not finished.
The president’s speech, just hours after the Supreme Court overturned the nearly 50-year-old ruling, signaled that Biden’s party is likely to make abortion a central issue midterm in a bid to energize voters at a time when Democrats are expected to face losses.
Mr Biden said the decision “will have real and immediate consequences” and that “the health and lives of women in this country are now at risk”.
The forceful defense of reproductive rights was striking from a president who has not always been comfortable talking about abortion. Mr. Biden, a devout Roman Catholic, has rarely been the outspoken proponent of abortion rights that campaigners have sought, evolving from an outright critic of Roe early in his career to a largely silent supporter.
In the weeks since a leaked draft opinion on Roe’s overthrow, Mr. Biden has called the possibility of the Supreme Court’s decision a threat not only to abortion rights, but also to the right to privacy more broadly.
On Friday, Mr Biden warned that the Supreme Court’s decision could have implications for other rights Americans have come to expect – citing Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion that the same reasoning as the Supreme Court used to eliminate the right to abortion should be used to reconsider decisions about contraception and same-sex marriage.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who was in Illinois to speak about maternal health but edited her speech to focus on Roe, said the decision would affect “decisions about the right to have a family,” including the right to use contraception.
“Today’s ruling on this theory therefore calls into question other rights that we thought were established,” including interracial and same-sex marriage.
She repeated the president’s call to go to the polls. “You have the power to elect leaders who will defend and protect your rights,” Ms Harris said.
Stefanie Brown James, co-founder of the Collective PAC, an organization dedicated to electing black leaders, said the president’s heavy-handed defense of Roe could further energize his base.
“I appreciate that Biden is not being shy and not measuring his words when it comes to this issue, which he has done before,” Ms James said. “For him to say Roe is on the ballot, which he is, is a big thing.”
But Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and Minority Leader, who played a major role in crafting the court, called the decision “courageous and correct.”
“The judges applied the Constitution,” he said in a statement. “They carefully weighed the complex factors regarding precedent.”
After his Friday speech, Mr. Biden left the lectern without answering shouted questions about whether he supported an end to the filibuster to codify Roe. The White House also canceled its routine press briefing.
Kevin Brunell, a Washington resident who went to protest outside the Supreme Court after Mr Biden’s speech, said he wanted to hear more from the president than a call to go to the polls.
“I think they’re going to use it as a leverage tool to help people vote, when it seems, the way things are going, there might be more assertive action needed,” Mr Brunell said. . “I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t think ‘let’s wait and see what happens in November’ will do.”
Since the leaked draft abortion notice was published by Politico in early May, protesters have gathered outside judges’ homes and police have erected a fence around the courthouse.
Mr Biden alluded to the tense atmosphere on Friday when he asked “everyone, no matter how much they care about this decision, to keep all protests peaceful”.
“We must oppose violence in all its forms, regardless of your justification,” Biden said.
After the Supreme Court decision, Mr. Biden was briefed by his chief of staff, Ron Klain, in the Oval Office, according to a senior White House official. Mr. Biden had already prepared a draft of his speech before the decision but quickly made revisions with this team after reviewing the decision.
And when he delivered it, he said November.
“Today the Supreme Court of the United States expressly took away a constitutional right from the American people,” Mr. Biden said. “They didn’t limit it; they just took it away.
“Voters need to make their voices heard,” Biden added. “This fall, we need to elect more senators and representatives who will re-codify women’s right to choose.
Zach Montague contributed report.