President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged Congress to pass legislation codifying Roe v. Wade and said a woman’s right to have an abortion is “fundamental,” but said he wasn’t ready to call for an end to the filibuster to push for abortion rights legislation.
“Roe has been the law of the land for almost fifty years, and basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned,” Biden said in a statement after Politico published a draft of a Supreme Court majority opinion that would strike down Roe v. Wade.
The President later Tuesday morning told reporters that if the final opinion is issued along the lines of the draft it would be a “radical decision” that would throw into question “a whole range of rights.”
“The idea that we’re letting the states make those decisions, localities make those decisions, would be a fundamental shift in what we’ve done,” Biden told reporters before boarding Air Force One.
He continued, “So it goes far beyond, in my view … the concern of whether or not there is the right to choose. It goes to other basic rights – the right to marriage, the right to determine a whole range of things.”
“It’s a fundamental shift in American jurisprudence,” Biden said.
The President said he was “not prepared” to make a judgment on whether the Senate should remove the filibuster to codify Roe v. Wade, as some lawmakers – like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont – have called for.
A Supreme Court spokesperson said in a statement the draft published by Politico is “authentic,” but said “it does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case.”
The President said he still hoped there were not enough votes to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Earlier on Tuesday, the President said in a written statement that if the court does overturn Roe, it will fall on lawmakers to protect access to reproductive health care and said he would work to pass legislation codifying the right to abortion. He also urged voters to elect supporters of abortion rights in the November midterm elections.
“At the federal level, we will need more pro-choice Senators and a pro-choice majority in the House to adopt legislation that codifies Roe, which I will work to pass and sign into law,” the President said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters later on Tuesday, “The President’s position is that we need to codify Roe, and that is what he has long called on Congress to act on.”
Psaki continued, “What is also true is that there has been a vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would do exactly that, and there were not even enough votes, even if there was no filibuster, to get that done.”
The legislation, which would protect abortion access, passed the House in September but failed to advance in the Senate.
If the court issues a final opinion along the lines of the draft, it would be the most consequential abortion decision in decades and would transform the landscape of women’s reproductive health in America
Politico on Monday published a draft of a majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito that would strike down Roe v. Wade. The draft was circulated in early February, according to Politico, and the publishing of the draft is a stunning breach of Supreme Court confidentiality. The final opinion has not been released and votes and language can change before opinions are formally released. The opinion in this case is not expected to be published until late June.
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Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts issued a statement on Tuesday saying he had launched an investigation into the source of the leak, saying, “This was a singular and egregious breach of that trust that is an affront to the Court and the community of public servants who work here.”
The Biden administration had urged the Supreme Court to uphold Roe v. Wade and to invalidate the Mississippi law that bars most abortions after 15 weeks. Biden has said in the past he would seek to codify Roe v. Wade, and that his administration was “deeply committed” to protecting access to reproductive health care, including abortion.
The President said in his Tuesday statement he has directed his Gender Policy Council and White House Counsel’s Office to prepare different options in response to “the continued attack on abortion and reproductive rights.”
“We will be ready when any ruling is issued,” Biden said.
The President said his administration had argued strongly in defense of Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court.
“We said that Roe is based on ‘a long line of precedent recognizing ‘the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty … against government interference with intensely personal decisions,’” Biden said.
Biden, a lifelong devout Catholic, has said he is personally opposed to abortion because of his faith but does not believe he should impose his views on the rest of society.
Biden wrote in his 2007 book, “Promises to Keep”: “I personally am opposed to abortion, but I don’t think I have the right to impose my view – on something I accept as a matter of faith – on the rest of society. I’ve thought a lot about it, and my position probably doesn’t please anyone. I think the government should stay out completely.”
“I’ve stuck to my middle-of-the-road position on abortion for more than thirty years. I still vote against partial birth abortion and federal funding, and I’d like to find ways to make it easier for scared young mothers to choose not to have an abortion, but I will also vote against a constitutional amendment that strips a woman of her right to make her own choice. That position has earned me the distrust of some women’s groups and the outright enmity of the Right to Life groups,” Biden wrote in his book.
Biden previously was a longtime supporter of the Hyde Amendment – which bars federal funding from being used to pay for abortions, except in the cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in jeopardy – but reversed his position while he was running for President in 2020. Biden said he changed his mind because of laws that Republican state lawmakers had enacted making access to abortions more difficult for women who cannot afford the procedure or must travel to obtain it. He said these laws were extreme and in violation of Roe v. Wade.
This story has been updated with additional information.