© Reuters. Abortion protesters take part in nationwide demonstrations following the leaked Supreme Court ruling proposing the possibility of overturning the Roe v. Wade abortion decision in Seattle, Washington, USA, May 14, 2022. REUTERS / Lindsey
By Nandita Bose, Gabriella Borter and Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Frustration with President Joe Biden and his Democratic Party over their perceived lack of leadership on abortion rights is likely to add fuel to months of planned protests nationwide, activists said.
An unprecedented leak from the Supreme Court two weeks ago showed that the Conservative majority of judges could soon overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973 that established abortion rights. Galvanized by the view, protesters marched across the country on Saturday, the start of what organizers said would be a “summer of rage.”
Since the Supreme Court leak, the Biden administration and Democrats have not put forward a meaningful plan to deal with such a decision, critics said. They urged Biden to take a more active, vocal role in a national response to the potential decision.
“I would like to see the White House say, ‘We are holding an emergency meeting with all Democrats in this country because we want to pass a federal law that guarantees abortion rights,'” said author and women’s rights advocate Mona Eltahawy.
“I’m amazed at the lack of urgency, in general, whether it’s from the Biden White House or the Democrats in general,” she said.
Biden, a devout Catholic who has said he is personally opposed to abortion but respects a woman’s right to choose one, has been a reluctant ally on the issue, some activists believe, noting that he rarely speaks publicly about it.
The disappointment is exacerbated by the feeling that the Democrats had plenty of time to prepare. Conservatives have been open about their goal of a total abortion ban for decades, and women’s rights groups have for years sounded the alarm about the consequences of a Conservative majority in the Supreme Court.
“Their constant solution is: ‘Well, just vote in November’. I can not stress enough to you how offensive it is to be asked to hope … that they win in November, they join in January, and to eventually they come up with a solution, “said Renee Bracey Sherman of We Testify, an organization that promotes open discussion about abortion.
Women in the United States have switched to the Democratic Party in recent decades. About 56% of registered female voters identified themselves as Democrats or democratically oriented in the 2018 and 2019 polls, up from 48% in 1994, according to Pew Research.
Democratic women polled last year by Reuters and Ipsos said abortion rights were the issue that would make them angrier if the government went against their views. About 60% of Americans generally say that abortions should be legal in some or all cases.
The threat that the Supreme Court will restrict access to abortion despite popular opposition and the importance of the issue to female voters illustrates how ineffective Democrats are, critics said, including some elected officials.
“Where is the Democratic Party?” California Governor Gavin Newsom asked in the days following the May 2 leak. “Why are we not more firm, more resolute? Why are we not calling it out? This is a coordinated, coordinated effort (by the Republicans). And yes, they are winning.”
A Democratic bill to guarantee abortion rights failed in the Senate this week. There is little hope that such a law will be passed next year, political strategists said, unless Democrats control 60 Senate seats after the November election, a long shot, or Biden is willing to seek the end of a procedural norm in Congress known as filibuster. It prevents them from passing a bill by a simple majority.
The White House has already ruled out what some advocates for women’s rights have put forward as a last resort, and is expanding the Supreme Court to balance the conservative majority of judges.
SURPRISE IN THE WHITE HOUSE
Across the Biden administration, officials were appalled by the harshness of the draft language of the court ruling, several told Reuters. Some had hoped that the Supreme Court would not completely settle the Roe v. Wade decision, but the draft left no doubt that this was the intention.
Inside the White House, there was a sense that little could be done to overcome Democratic Senator Joe Manchin’s crucial opposition to ending the filibuster, officials said.
Bidens Gender Policy Council, an advisory body on gender equality, is trying to pressure the president to act, said external groups and individuals involved in the meetings.
Biden is considering ideas, including expanding access to medical abortion medicine to increase funding for lower-income women who need to travel for abortion.
But “there is no clear, actionable, viable plan on the table” on how to protect abortion rights nationally, a White House adviser said on the issue.
The bite also faces a generation gap. Biden’s rare remarks center on Roe v. Wade’s focus on privacy, but many young Millennium and Gen Z voters, those most likely in need of abortion services, think differently, said Amanda Klasing, human rights associate director at Human Rights Watch.
“Instead of privacy, there is a real embrace of telling your abortion story, to live your experience and not hide your experience,” she said.