Jan 22, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden's abortion ambivalence

Photo: Bonnie Cash/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden has two positions on abortion: He's personally uncomfortable with it, but publicly adamant that a woman has a right to choose.

Why it matters: Biden's ambivalent stance allows him to signal to voters that he accepts — but doesn't celebrate — abortion. It's a position that puts Biden in the center of the gray zone of American public opinion on abortion.

State of play: Years of polling indicate that Americans are in the middle on abortion, with 62% saying it should be legal in most or all cases, according to a comprehensive 2023 Pew survey.

  • "I believe Roe v. Wade was right," Biden said at the White House Monday. "I am not supporting — they are not supporting — abortion on demand."
  • "A majority of Americans agree," he added.

Driving the news: The Biden campaign and the White House are using the 51st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision to try to harness the outrage many Democrats — as well as swing voters — share about the Supreme Court's decision to overturn it in 2022.

  • The clear goal is to link former President Trump with the fall of Roe.
  • "The former president handpicked three Supreme Court justices because he intended for them to overturn Roe," Vice President Kamala Harris said in remarks in Wisconsin Monday.
  • On Tuesday, Biden and Harris will appear at a rare joint rally in Virginia with their spouses by their side — the first time all four have appeared together at a campaign rally since Biden announced his re-election bid.

Zoom out: Biden spent most of his career opposed to federal funding of abortion, but changed his position under pressure from progressives in 2019.

  • At a fundraiser in Maryland this summer, he laid out his own personal ambivalence.
  • "I happen to be a practicing Catholic. I'm not big on abortion," Biden told donors in June.
  • He often explains his support of abortion rights as a matter of "freedom" and has used the abortion issue to paint Republicans as extremists who want to patrol America's bedrooms.

Zoom in: Biden gives wide latitude to Harris to rally abortion rights activists and make the case across the country. It's also an issue his wife, first lady Jill Biden, frequently discusses.

  • Harris is also careful to couch Biden's position in the language of personal freedom — and tolerance.
  • "We are not asking anyone to abandon their personal beliefs," she said on ABC's "The View" last week.

The other side: Some Democrats are urging Biden to give more full-throated — and more frequent — endorsements of abortion rights.

  • Asked over the weekend if Biden should lean into the abortion issue more, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told CBS News' "Face the Nation": "I think it would be good if he did."
  • "I don't think it would hurt," she said, suggesting that Biden use more "blunt language."

What to watch: Some of Biden's closest advisers have told anxious Democrats that two issues — abortion and Trump — will carry the election for Biden, Axios reported in September.

  • Other Democrats are concerned that the campaign may be focusing too much on abortion, which could potentially drown out the message on an improving economy.
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