President Joe Biden on Tuesday made a major promise on a push to put abortion rights into law as his party looks to seize on the politically divisive issue in the final push ahead of the midterm elections.
At an abortion-rights-focused speech at a Democratic National Committee event on Tuesday, Biden said that if Democrats elect more senators and keep control of the House in the midterms then he’d make abortion a top issue.
“The court got Roe right nearly 50 years ago and I believe the Congress should codify Roe, once and for all,” Biden said.
He then implored voters to elect more Democrats in order to make sure that bill could pass.
“If we do that, here’s the promise I make to you and the American people: The first bill I will send to the Congress will be to codify Roe v. Wade. And when Congress passes it, I’ll sign it in January, 50 years after Roe was first decided the law of the land,” Biden added.
Dating back to the 2020 campaign, Biden has called for codifying Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed a federal constitutional right to abortion. The Supreme Court overturned it earlier this year, transforming access to reproductive health care in the country. It is unclear how politically effective such a promise of prioritizing such a bill will be, given that Democrats have an intensely tough battle in November to keep both the Senate and House.
Biden has not been able to fulfill that campaign promise in part because he needs more than just a simple majority in the Senate to overcome the chamber’s filibuster rules. While Biden has voiced support for ending the 60-vote threshold to codify abortion rights, Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona remain opposed to such a carveout. Biden has previously said he would need at least two more Democrats elected to the Senate to change the filibuster rules and pass abortion rights legislation.
Biden’s promise to prioritize abortion in the new legislative term is an indication he is exhausting executive steps to protect those rights, even as some activists call for more action. The White House was accused of being caught flat-footed on the issue in the spring, despite a draft of the opinion striking down Roe v. Wade leaking more than a month before it was officially decided.
Biden has signed an executive order defending the ability to cross state borders to obtain an abortion, sought to ensure access to medication abortion and issued a reminder to universities last month that they cannot discriminate on basis of pregnancy. But he has stopped short of declaring a public health emergency, which some activists have called for, and ruled out other options like allowing use of federal lands for abortion.
The White House has been skeptical that some of those steps would prove effective, and has been wary of provoking legal battles. Even before the Supreme Court ruled, White House officials were open in acknowledging there was little they could do to unilaterally restore the nationwide right to abortion.
Instead, Biden and other top officials have cast abortion rights as a moral question to voters.
In remarks at the DNC event at Howard Theatre in Washington, DC, Biden spoke broadly about what he sees as the choice voters confront in the midterms between Republicans who are pushing for a national abortion ban and going after doctors who perform abortion services, versus Democrats who want to codify Roe v. Wade.
An official also said that the context they want to keep making clear with Biden’s speech Tuesday is that “nearly half the states in the United States have either passed a ban on abortion or will shortly and in many states, abortion is already banned even in cases of rape and incest.”
Since the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year, Democrats have hoped that abortion rights would galvanize and mobilize voters and have seen some signs of this dynamic.
For example, 50% of registered voters in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey said the Supreme Court’s decision has made them more motivated to vote next month – up 7 percentage points from July, when the same question was asked just a few weeks after the ruling came down. About half of voters in states with full abortion bans also said their states’ abortion laws have made them more motivated to vote.
Women are especially motivated by the Supreme Court decision, the new survey found: About 3 in 5 women ages 18 to 49 who said they are more likely to head to the polls next month cited the overturning of Roe as a motivating factor.
However, a recent CNN/SSRS poll found that the economy remains the central focus for voters, with 90% of them saying it was extremely or very important to their vote. Fewer – 72% – said the same about abortion.
And a New York Times/Sienna poll showed that likely voters see the economy (26%) and inflation (18%) as the most important problem facing the country, with just 5% picking abortion as their top issue.
The economy and inflation take on added importance in competitive congressional districts. While 59% of registered voters nationally called the economy extremely important to their vote, that rose to 67% in those districts, and the share calling inflation that important rose from 56% to 64%.
Abortion has been a complicated issue for the President, who has witnessed the changing politics around it over the half-century span of his career and reckoned with personal qualms rooted in his Catholic faith. As a candidate in 2019, Biden reversed his long-held support for an amendment preventing federal funds from being used for abortions.
As his administration unveiled new steps to enhance abortion protections earlier this month, Biden said he would not “sit by and let Republicans throughout the country enact extreme policies.”
The White House has seized on a proposal from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina that would impose a federal ban on most abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy. At a Democratic fundraiser in New York City last month, the President described Graham’s bill as emblematic of Republicans becoming “more extreme in their positions.”
As the midterm elections approach, Biden has argued that voters need to elect more Democrats in order to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade into law. He’s also pledged to veto any bill that would ban abortions on the federal level if Republicans take control of Congress.
More than a dozen states have seen abortions bans come into effect since the Dobbs ruling, affecting nearly 30 million women of reproductive age.
CNN’s Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.