WASHINGTON (BP) – President Biden reiterated his call for restoring an expansive right to abortion only briefly in a 72-minute State of the Union address Tuesday night (Feb. 7) in which he urged Congress to reach bipartisan agreement on multiple issues.
Speaking after the completion of two years in the White House, Biden’s fleeting reference to abortion came in the first State of the Union speech since the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. His administration and he had repeatedly issued regulations and orders in the previous seven months to promote abortion access after the high court’s invalidation of Roe in June. That ruling ended a nearly 50-year regime that resulted in the deaths of more than 60 million preborn children and returned abortion policy to the states.
Unlike last year, Biden delivered the State of the Union speech to a divided Congress that would appear unlikely to reach consensus on most major proposals. The Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives in November’s mid-term elections, while the Democrats maintained a narrow majority in the Senate.
Among his calls for agreement between the parties, the president requested they “come together on immigration and make it a bipartisan issue once again.” Finding a broad solution to the problems infecting a system that has resulted in an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country has been vexing in recent decades.
Brent Leatherwood, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said of the State of the Union speech, “As expected, the president signaled he will continue to be a pro-abortion voice in our politics. That’s not new. What was noteworthy was where he surfaced this opinion in his remarks. He waited until he was well into the second half of his speech and, even then, it was only a few passing lines.
“In comparison, he spent more time and energy on policies regarding hidden fees and shipping,” Leatherwood told Baptist Press in emailed comments. “Given this was the first State of the Union since the fall of Roe, is there any doubt the abortion activists at Planned Parenthood expected far more from a pro-choice president? Their disappointment should be a source of encouragement for those of us committed to advancing the cause of life.
“Of course, we need to be clear-eyed that challenges to protecting preborn lives remain and will continue, particularly from this administration.”
In the months since the Supreme Court’s watershed ruling on abortion, Biden has endorsed legislation that would surpass Roe by barring federal and state regulations that were allowed by the Supreme Court under that decision. To counteract Roe’s demise, several departments in his administration have instituted rules seeking to protect expansive abortion rights, including permitting retail pharmacies to dispense the abortion pill and the lethal drug to be delivered through the mail.
Nearly 55 minutes into his speech, Biden said, “Congress must restore the right that was taken away in Roe v. Wade and protect Roe v. Wade.
“The vice president [Kamala Harris] and I are doing everything to protect access to reproductive health care and safeguard patient safety,” he said in remarks on abortion that took less than a minute. “But already, more than a dozen states are enforcing extreme abortion bans.
“Make no mistake about it: If Congress passes a national ban, I will veto it.”
Republicans introduced a prohibition on abortion after 15 weeks’ gestation in both houses after the high court overturned Roe.
The president quickly turned to a request for bipartisanship as he opened his speech, saying Democrats and Republicans “came together” to pass what he described as 300 bipartisan bills in the last two years with a Democratic-controlled Congress. He told Republicans, “[I]f we could work together in the last Congress, there’s no reason we can’t work together and find consensus on important things in this Congress as well.”
His policy proposals brought Republicans to their feet in cheers only a few times, including in his call for a commitment not to cut Social Security and Medicare.
Both sides also responded with unity to the presence, as Biden’s guests, of the parents of Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old Black man who died after a beating from five Memphis police officers.
Most police officers are “good, decent, honorable people,” Biden said. “[W]hen police officers or police departments violate the public trust, they must be held accountable.”
At points, Biden’s speech became unusually combative for a State of the Union address. Some Republicans on the House side of a joint session of Congress heckled the president at times, especially during his description of the stance of some GOP members regarding raising the debt ceiling. Some Republicans “want to take the economy hostage” and have proposed terminating Social Security and Medicare, he said. Catcalls disagreeing with that characterization rose from the GOP side.
In a one-sentence remark, Biden again endorsed the Equality Act, a far-reaching gay and transgender rights proposal that opponents warn would have calamitous effects on freedom of religion and conscience, as well as on protections for women, girls and unborn children.
In addition to promoting his administration’s record on the economy and other issues, the president also called for passage of:
- Immigration reform that consists of equipment and personnel to make the border secure and “a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, those on temporary status, farm workers, essential workers.” Dreamers are undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
- A ban on assault weapons.
- A prohibition on technology companies “collecting personal data on our kids and teenagers online.”
In international relations, Biden promised the United States would stand with Ukraine “as long as it takes” in its defense against Russia’s invasion last year and, “if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country.”
Leatherwood said, “[W]hile I’m skeptical about the prospects of significant developments on these fronts, I was encouraged the president highlighted the need for pro-family policies to be developed, a solution that matches immigration reform with needed border security and continued support for confronting the atrocities we see across the international landscape. Our Convention has spoken to these issues, and they have the potential to be ground for bipartisan solutions.”
He also commented on Biden’s remark “that all of us, every one of us, is created equal in the image of God.”
“Our nation’s leaders often invoke the ‘image of God’ language in their speeches, as was the case with this address” Leatherwood told BP. “But it is clear we still have a long way to go before the full weight of its reality is truly reflected in our nation’s laws and policies.”
Biden, 80, said in a concluding diagnosis, “Because the soul of this nation is strong, because the backbone of this nation is strong, because the people of this nation are strong, the state of the union is strong.”
In a sharply worded Republican response, new Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, 40, told television viewers Biden and the Democrats “have failed you.”
Biden inherited from President Trump, whom Sanders served as press secretary for almost two years, benefits that included “the fastest economic recovery on record” and the “most secure border in history,” but Democrats “destroyed it all” in two years, she said. “[H]is administration has been completely hijacked by the radical left.”
“And it’s time for a change,” and a new group of GOP leaders is stepping forward “to be change makers for the American people,” Sanders said.