Biden Announces Support For Abortion Rights Filibuster Exception

President of the United States Joe Biden during the press conference on the final day of the NATO Summit in Madrid, Spain on June 30, 2022. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden on Thursday announced his support for the Senate to create an exception to the filibuster in order to codify abortion rights into federal law. 

Speaking at a NATO summit in Madrid, Biden staked out the policy position that he had thus far been unwilling to publicly endorse.

“I believe we have to codify Roe v. Wade in the law, and the way to do that is to make sure that Congress votes to do that,” Biden said.

“And if the filibuster gets in the way, it’s like voting rights — it should be, we provide an exception for this, we require an exception to the filibuster for this action.” 

Since the Supreme Court eliminated the right to abortion access laid out in Roe v. Wade, a wide range of Democrats, pushed by those on the party’s left, have called for the elimination of the Senate filibuster in order to enshrine those rights in federal law using a simple majority, rather than the minimum of 60 senators needed to overcome the filibuster.

But without winning a larger Senate majority in this year’s midterms, Democrats don’t have the votes within their own Senate caucus to change the filibuster — on abortion, or on voting rights, the other issue Biden mentioned where he took this same posture

Neither Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) nor Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), the two senators who opposed a filibuster exception for voting rights, have said their position is any different for abortion rights. And though Manchin has said he supports codifying Roe v. Wade into law, he voted against the House bill to do so, saying that it “expands abortion.”

In a Dear Colleague letter dated Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) supported eliminating the filibuster to pass national abortion rights, and echoed others’ calls to make that a campaign issue in the upcoming midterm elections. 

“It is essential that we protect and expand our pro-choice Majorities in the House and Senate in November so that we can eliminate the filibuster so that we can restore women’s fundamental rights – and freedom for every American,” Pelosi wrote.

Some have speculated that Republicans wouldn’t hesitate to eliminate the filibuster to pass a federal ban on all abortions, even in states where the procedure is currently still legal, if they are able to retake majorities in the House and Senate. “Yes, without hesitation, they will set the marker,” former Republican Party chair Michael Steele said in an interview Monday.

Biden’s announcement Thursday followed recent news reports that suggest the President was resistant to supporting bold proposals from the left to restore abortion rights post-Roe.

In a story citing interviews with unnamed officials inside and outside the White House, Reuters reported Wednesday that “White House officials worry Democrats don’t have enough votes currently to support doing away with the filibuster to pass an abortion bill, and see political risks to Biden supporting the idea.” 

Biden’s shift is also perhaps an answer to critics who say the White House appears to have been caught flat-footed by Roe’s elimination, which even casual court observers saw coming with the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the final days of Donald Trump’s tenure, and more recently with the leak of the draft opinion striking down Roe

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