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 Supreme Court leak two weeks ago showed the conservative majority of justices may soon reverse the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973 that established abortion rights. Galvanized by the prospect, 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 for dealing with such a decision, critics said. They urged Biden to take a more active, vocal role in a national response to the potential ruling.
“I would like to see the White House say,‘We are holding an emergency summit with every Democrat in this country because we are going to pass a federal law that guarantees abortion rights,’” said author and women’s rights advocate Mona Eltahawy.
“I am astounded at the lack of urgency, generally, whether it is from the Biden White House or the Democrats at large,” she said.
Biden, a devout Catholic who has said he is personally against abortion but respects a woman’s right to choose one, has been a reluctant ally on the issue, some activists believe, noting he rarely talks publicly about it.
Disappointment is compounded by the sense that Democrats had plenty of time to prepare. Conservatives have been open about their goal of a total ban on abortion for decades, and women’s rights groups have sounded alarms about the consequences of a conservative majority on the Supreme Court for years.
“Their constant solution is, ‘Well, just vote in November.’ I cannot stress to you enough how offensive it is to be asked to hope…that they win in November, they take office in January and 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 shifted to the Democratic Party in recent decades. Some 56% of registered women voters identified as Democrats or Democratic-leaning in 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 was the issue that would make them angriest if the government moved against their views. About 60% of Americans overall say abortions should be legal in some or all cases.
The threat of the Supreme Court restricting abortion access despite popular opposition and the importance of the topic to women voters illustrates how ineffective Democrats are, critics, including some elected officials, said.
“Where is the Democratic Party?” California Governor Gavin Newsom asked in the days after the May 2 leak. “Why aren’t we standing up more firmly, more resolutely? Why aren’t we calling this out? This is a coordinated, concerted effort (by Republicans). And yes, they’re winning.”
A Democratic bill to guarantee abortion rights failed in the Senate this week. There is little hope such a law will pass next year either, political strategists said, unless Democrats control 60 Senate seats after November’s elections, a long shot, or Biden is willing to seek the end of a procedural norm in Congress known as the filibuster. It prevents them from passing a bill with a simple majority.
The White House has already ruled out what some women’s rights advocates have held out as a last-chance option, expanding the Supreme Court to balance out the conservative majority of justices.
SURPRISE IN THE WHITE HOUSE
Across the Biden administration, officials were startled by the harshness of the draft court ruling’s language, several told Reuters. Some had hoped that the Supreme Court would not fully dismantle the Roe v. Wade decision, but the draft left no doubt that was the intention.
Inside the White House, a sense prevailed that little could be done to overcome the pivotal opposition of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin to ending the filibuster, officials said.
Biden’s Gender Policy Council, an advisory body on gender equality, is trying to push the president to act, outside groups and people involved in the meetings said.
Biden is weighing ideas including expanding access to medical abortion drugs to increasing funding for lower income women who need to travel for abortions.
However, “there’s no clear, actionable, winnable plan on the table” about how to protect abortion rights nationally, one adviser to the White House on the issue said.
Biden also faces a generational gulf. Biden’s rare remarks center on the Roe v. Wade ruling’s focus on privacy, but many young millennial and Gen Z voters, those most likely to need abortion services, think differently, said Amanda Klasing, women’s 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.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose, Andrea Shalal, Gabriella Borter; Additional reporting and writing by Heather Timmons; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)