By Nandita Bose, Gabriella Borter and Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A lack of leadership on abortion rights by President Joe Biden and his Democrats could fuel months of planned protests across the country, activists say.
Unprecedented Supreme Court leaks two weeks ago suggest that a conservative majority of justices may soon overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established abortion rights. Buoyed by the prospect, protesters marched across the country on Saturday in what organizers said would be the start of a “summer of anger.”
Critics say the Biden administration and Democrats have not come up with meaningful plans to deal with such decisions since the Supreme Court leaks. They urged Biden to play a more active and outspoken role in the national response to the potential ruling.
“I want to see the White House say, ‘We’re having an emergency summit with every Democrat in this country because we’re going to pass a federal law that guarantees abortion rights,'” said author and women’s rights advocate Mona Eltahawy.
“I’m struck by the lack of urgency, in general, whether it’s from the Biden White House or the Democratic Party as a whole,” she said.
Biden, a devout Catholic who has said he personally opposes abortion but respects women’s right to choose an abortion, has been seen by some activists as a reluctant ally on the issue, noting he rarely speaks publicly about the issue .
The feeling that Democrats had enough time to prepare added to the disappointment. Conservatives have been open to the goal of a blanket ban on abortion for decades, and women’s rights groups have warned for years about the consequences of a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.
“Their consistent solution is, ‘Okay, just vote in November.’ I can’t stress it enough to you, being asked to hope…they win in November, they take office in January and finally come up with a solution How objectionable,” said Renee Bracey Sherman of We Testify, an organization that promotes public discussions about abortion.
In recent decades, women in America have turned to the Democratic Party. About 56 percent of registered female voters identified as Democratic or Democratic-leaning in 2018 and 2019 polls, up from 48 percent in 1994, according to the Pew Research Center.
A Reuters and Ipsos poll of Democratic women last year showed that abortion rights were the issue that angered them most if the administration opposed their views. Overall, about 60 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances.
Critics, including some elected officials, say the Supreme Court’s threat to restrict abortion despite popular opposition, and the topic’s importance to female voters, shows how ineffective Democrats are.
“Where are the Democrats?” California Governor Gavin Newsom asked in the days following the May 2 leak. “Why don’t we stand up stronger and more determined? Why don’t we speak up? It’s a concerted effort by (Republicans). Yes, they’re winning.”
A Democratic bill to guarantee abortion rights failed in the Senate this week. Political strategists say there is also little hope of such a law passing next year unless Democrats take control of 60 Senate seats after the November election, a long shot, or Biden is willing to seek an end to what has been called filibuster in Congress program specification. It prevents them from passing the bill by a simple majority.
The White House has ruled out some women’s rights advocates as a last-chance option to expand the Supreme Court to balance the conservative majority.
White House Surprise
In a Biden administration, officials were shocked by the harsh wording of the court’s draft ruling, some told Reuters. Some had hoped that the Supreme Court would not completely strike down the Roe v. Wade decision, but the draft has no doubt that intent.
Officials said there was a widespread feeling within the White House that it was nearly impossible to overcome Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s key opposition to ending the filibuster.
Outside groups and people involved in the meeting said Biden’s Gender Equality Policy Council, a gender equality advisory body, was trying to push the president to act.
Biden is weighing ideas, including expanding access to medical abortion drugs and increasing funding for low-income women who need to travel for abortions.
However, a White House adviser said there is “no clear, actionable, winable plan” for how to protect abortion rights nationwide.
Biden also faces a generation gap. Amanda Krasin, deputy director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, said Biden’s rare remarks focused on privacy concerns in the Roe v. Wade ruling, but many young millennials and Gen Z voters most likely to need abortion services ideas are different.
“Not privacy, but really embracing telling your abortion story and experiencing your experience rather than hiding yours,” she said.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose, Andrea Shalal, Gabriella Borter; Additional reporting and writing by Heather Timmons; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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