An abortion rights demonstrator

An abortion rights demonstrator holds a sign reading, "Abortion on demand and without apology" at a rally on June 24, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan.

(Photo: Emily Elconin/Getty Images)

Rights Advocates Urge Biden to Stop Stigmatizing 'Abortion on Demand'

"If Biden insists on hinging his entire campaign on abortion because it's more popular than he is, it would behoove him to actually use the messaging that we use to talk about abortion, without stigma," said one advocate.

Rights advocates on Thursday implored U.S. President Joe Biden to fully embrace the issue of reproductive justice in his 2024 reelection campaign, after Biden made his latest comments undermining the abortion rights movement and appearing to "apologize" for supporting it.

At a fundraiser in New York on Wednesday evening, the president reminded attendees of his Catholic faith and suggested that he wants firm limits on who can obtain abortion care and when.

"I'm a practicing Catholic," he said. "I don't want abortion on demand, but I thought Roe v. Wade was right."

It was not the first time the president has qualified his support for abortion rights—even telling a room of donors a year after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted reproductive freedom by overturning Roe that he wasn't "big on abortion"—and it provoked a number of questions from several advocates and journalists who have extensively covered the issue.

"If he's saying, 'I'm not for abortion on demand,' okay," Renee Bracey Sherman, an organizer and abortion storyteller, told Common Dreams. "So then are you saying that we need [to have] doctor panels that approve everyone's abortion? Are you saying that you support waiting periods... so you have to wait 24-48 hours before you get your abortion?"

"Abortion on demand: What is that?" she asked.

On social media, Rewire News Group senior reporter Garnet Henderson asked whether Biden believes an acceptable alternative to "abortion on demand" would be abortion "after a judge decides you deserve it? ... After state-mandated counseling? After driving hours from home? After almost dying?"

All of those scenarios happened when Roe was in place as right-wing state legislatures put restrictions on access, said Henderson, and have continued to happen since the ruling was overturned—raising the question of what, precisely, Biden believes abortion access should entail in the United States.

Bracey Sherman pointed out that Biden's latest remarks came just two weeks after the president's reelection campaign signaled that it would put abortion rights "front and center" ahead of the November election—a strategy it's likely employing because numerous polls have shown reproductive freedom to be broadly popular in the United States, including among people who share Biden's Catholic faith.

"For the first two years of his administration he didn't want to talk about it at all," Bracey Sherman told Common Dreams. "And then when it started winning by higher margins than he could than he could ever dream of, then he wanted to start clinging himself to abortion."

A poll taken by the Public Religion Research Institute in 2022 found that 64% of Americans believed abortion should be legal in "most or all cases," and a survey by Pew Research in 2020 showed that 56% of Catholics believed the same.

Instead of listening to those polls, said Bracey Sherman, "Biden is listening to his campaign advisers who are giving him outdated information that is based in stigma and not the reality of how this country feels about abortion."

"There has been, for a long time, this idea in politics that in order to talk about abortion, you have to apologize for it," she added. "'I believe that abortion [should be] safe, legal, and rare. I support abortion, but I apologize for it.' That it is this thing that you shouldn't be really outwardly supportive of."

"Political advisers are catering to his personal discomfort with [abortion]," she said, "instead of giving him some authentic talking points where he could just say: 'Look, I've evolved on this issue a lot, but at the end of the day, my personal feelings should not matter. This is healthcare, and people who need abortions deserve access.' He's trying to seem as if he's not 'extreme' on abortion, whatever that means. And in doing that, he actually says a lot of things that are extremely out of touch and unhelpful for this moment."

As Jeet Heer wrote in The Nation on Friday, the president's ambivalence on a highly mobilizing issue for Democrats could come at a cost, with 43% of Independent women saying in one recent poll that they "weren't sure what Democrats' position on abortion was."

Bracey Sherman noted that some Democratic lawmakers have listened closely to the reproductive justice movement and affirmatively pushed for an expansion of abortion rights without qualifying their support.

Last year Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) introduced the Abortion Justice Act, which would demand federal investments in abortion care, require insurers to cover care, and protect providers and patients from criminalization.

"I would love to see the president embrace that," said Bracey Sherman.

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