In just a few months, the constitutional right to get an abortion in the United States could disappear or be severely limited. Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that afforded that right, is facing a serious challenge in the high court. Meanwhile, conservative state legislatures are on a rampage: 2021 saw the most abortion restrictions ever enacted in a single year.
But President Joe Biden has said very little on the topic. His administration has made some limited moves to protect abortion care in the wake of these historic attacks, but abortion rights activists are worried that the president’s hesitance will have major consequences.
“Across the country, every barrier or hurdle possible is put in front of us to stop us from getting an abortion, to force us to run out of funds, be unable to travel, or make the logistics too impossible to complete,” the letter reads. “These are the experiences for so many right now, and it will get so much worse if the Supreme Court guts the constitutional right this summer. And it is those of us who already face discriminatory and intersecting barriers that bear the brunt.”
“We need to hear from you, Mr. President, about this injustice, what your administration will do to end it, and why our nation needs to show up for people who have and provide abortions,” the letter continues.
The open letter comes from Liberate Abortion Campaign, a national effort comprised of more than 150 reproductive justice organizations advocating for accessible, affordable and stigma-free abortion care. The campaign published the letter on Thursday to commemorate Abortion Provider Appreciation Day, which honors the memory of abortion provider Dr. David Gunn, who was murdered by a white supremacist and anti-abortion extremist on March 10, 1993, in Florida.
To date, Biden has used the word “abortion” twice as president, but only in written remarks. The first time was 224 days into his presidency, when the White House published two written statements on Texas’ six-week abortion ban. The second took place more recently when he commemorated Women’s History Month in a written statement, acknowledging that “the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade is facing an unprecedented assault.”
“We’re at a crisis moment for abortion access in our country, and we’re asking that President Biden take immediate action and do everything in his power to help,” Dr. Kristyn Brandi, an abortion provider and the board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health, told HuffPost. “As a physician, I’m also calling on him to say the word ‘abortion.’ By not saying the word ‘abortion,’ he is perpetuating the idea that having an abortion must be a secret or that having an abortion is shameful. But abortion isn’t shameful. Abortion is health care.”
“The least President Biden could do is name the constitutional right and essential health care that has been stripped away from millions of people. His reluctance to do so not only further stigmatizes abortion care and the 1 in 4 people who will need abortion care in their lifetime, but allows these egregious laws to spread across the country.”
– Aimee Arrambide, signatory and executive director of AVOW Texas
The president has commented on the importance of abortion access in the past, but has always danced around the word itself, opting for other terms such as “Roe v. Wade” or “reproductive rights.” During his State of the Union address earlier this month, Biden briefly acknowledged the crisis of abortion access in the United States, but again he did not use the term “abortion.”
Holly Bland, a signatory of the letter who has had an abortion, urged Biden to be more open about his support and used their own experience to show why it’s so important to speak out.
“Abortion is normal. My abortion allowed me to finish school and move forward with my life,” Bland told HuffPost. “We all deserve that — no matter who we are, where we live or what we look like. We need President Biden to vocally support abortion access and take action to protect access for everyone.”
The case that’s expected to either overturn or gut Roe, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, will likely be decided sometime in June. The Supreme Court case centers on a 2018 Mississippi law that bans abortion at 15 weeks. The law, which was debated in front of the court in December, is a direct contradiction of Roe, which makes it a constitutional right to access abortion until a fetus becomes viable at around 24 weeks. The high court’s decision could strike down the Mississippi law, meaning Roe would remain intact, but advocates and experts agree that the court’s conservative majority has signaled it will likely uphold the law, either by banning abortion outright or by moving the line of viability.
As the decision date nears, Biden’s apparent avoidance of the topic is becoming harder and harder for pro-choice advocates to ignore — especially after Texas passed the most draconian abortion restriction in recent history, banning abortion around six weeks and deputizing private citizens to enforce the law.
“On Sept. 1, 2021, Texas essentially banned abortion care, actively harming the most marginalized in our community. The least President Biden could do is name the constitutional right and essential health care that has been stripped away from millions of people,” Aimee Arrambide, a signatory of the letter and the executive director of the nonprofit AVOW Texas, told HuffPost.
“His reluctance to do so not only further stigmatizes abortion care and the 1 in 4 people who will need abortion care in their lifetime, but allows these egregious laws to spread across the country,” Arrambide added. ”I signed on to this letter because I demand and deserve a leader who will unapologetically advocate for abortion rights for everyone who needs or wants an abortion.”
Although there’s no doubt that Biden is pro-choice, his murky track record on abortion rights still follows him. When Biden joined the Senate in 1973, the year Roe was decided, he voted in favor of allowing states to overturn the Supreme Court decision. For the majority of his career, he has also supported the Hyde Amendment, which denies insurance coverage for abortions to people who receive their health care through government-sponsored plans such as Medicaid. He changed his stance on the amendment in 2019 after facing criticism from other presidential candidates.
Biden’s administration has taken steps to address the recent attacks on abortion care. It rescinded the global gag rule, which banned the federal government from offering U.S. aid to foreign health organizations that provide abortion services or information about the procedure; dropped the Hyde Amendment from Biden’s presidential budget proposal; and reversed a Trump-era guideline that barred U.S. health care providers from receiving federal funds if they discussed abortion care with patients. The White House also signaled strong support for the Women’s Health Protection Act, federal legislation that would have protected abortion access if Roe fell. (The act later died in the Senate.) The U.S. Department of Justice, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services have all taken action to protect abortion care during Biden’s presidency.
“I don’t know where I would be without my abortion,” said Renee Bracey Sherman, executive director of We Testify, one of the lead reproductive justice organizations behind the open letter.
“I want the president to hear our voices and read our names. He needs to know what we’re going through and that we need to know he has our back. He needs to model for the American public what it looks like to be an abortion ally, which could help change the conversation in a historic way,” Bracey Sherman continued. “We need to hear him say the word ‘abortion.’ We need to hear him say that he loves all of us who have abortions and will fight hard to protect our access as best he can. We need to hear it — from him — and we need to hear it now.”