Voices: Biden can’t advocate for abortion rights. That’s the real problem with his debate performance


Last night, I sat next to my postpartum best friend to watch the first debate between an 78-year-old convicted felon and an 81-year-old incumbent president.

I rubbed my 15-week pregnant stomach and prepared for a disaster of a so-called “debate” between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

By now everyone knows that it was a disaster — for Biden in particular. But it was the current president’s responses and rebuttals to the two — and only two — abortion-related questions that proved once and for all that, despite his many promises to protect reproductive freedom and restore Roe v Wade, Biden is the worst advocate for abortion rights the Democrats could ever have asked for.

Instead of highlighting the fact that over 70% of Americans support abortion in all or most cases and overwhelmingly disapproved of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade — or that most legal scholars did not believe decades of legal precedent should have been upended — Biden erroneously and bizarrely pivoted from abortion rights to an undocumented immigrant murdering a woman and young women “being raped by their in-laws, spouses, brothers and sisters.”

When attempting to attack Trump for bragging about appointing three Supreme Court judges who then voted to overturn Roe, Biden attempted to break down the now-foregone Constitutional right to abortion care into a three-trimester decision-making process.

“First time is between a woman and a doctor,” Biden babbled. “Second time is between the doctor and an extreme situation. And a third time is between the…woman and the state.”

Biden then made the downright sexist claim that a doctor, not the person who is pregnant, should be “making those decisions.”

“That’s how it should be run,” he added, disconcertingly.

Instead of combatting Trump’s dangerous lies about later abortion care — such as when he claimed that doctors “rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month and kill the baby”— Biden said that only when a pregnant person is “going to die” that those circumstances “happen.”

It’s important to be clear: Those. Circumstances. Do. Not. Happen. Infanticide is not abortion care. Abortions that occur after 21 weeks’ gestation account for less than 1% of all pregnancy terminations, and are the result of extreme fetal abnormalities, complications that threaten the life of the pregnant person, or pre-existing barriers to abortion care that push people further into their pregnancies.

What is perhaps even worse, Biden reiterated that Democrats are not advocating for the killing of infants by using the anti-abortion dog-whistle phrase “late-term abortion”.

For the uninitiated (looking at you, Mr. President) the phrase “late-term” refers to pregnancies that last from 41 weeks, 0 days to 41 weeks, 6 days gestation. “Post-term,” another term incorrectly used by anti-abortion zealots to demonize later abortion care, refers to any pregnancy that goes longer than 41 weeks.

Again: People are not ending their pregnancies at 41 or 42 weeks gestation. It’s not a thing.

This should have all been easily retorted by the sitting president, who consistently describes himself as the most “pro-choice president” in history. But at a time when pregnant patients are being turned away from emergency rooms, forced to travel out of state for abortion care, are slipping into comas, bleeding out in their homes and losing the ability to become pregnant in the future as a direct of anti-abortion laws, Biden failed to meet the moment. It’s a pattern that helped usher in this nation’s horrifying post-Roe reality.

As president, Biden has been obviously uncomfortable even uttering the word “abortion” out loud. In his 2024 State of the Union address, he did not say “abortion” once, even though the word was written in his prepared remarks. Instead, the current president leaned heavily on his favorite synonyms, including “reproductive rights,” “women’s health care” and “choice.”

In 2023, Biden claimed he’s “not a big fan of abortion” because of his devout Catholicism, despite Guttmacher data that shows Catholics are just as likely as any other pregnant person to have an abortion. Like most US adults, the vast majority of Catholics do not believe Roe v Wade should have been overturned56% believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and they are just as likely as other voters to view abortion as a key election issue.

Instead of highlighting how often Catholics rely on abortion care — or how popular abortion is among practicing Catholics — Biden regularly voices his personal disdain for abortion by hiding behind his religion, effectively perpetuating the false narrative that people of faith do not have, provide, or support abortion care.

Even prior to becoming the president of the United States, Biden has faltered on the abortion front. In 2019, as a then-candidate, Biden was the sole Democrat to voice his support for the Hyde Amendment — an immoral, dangerous law that bans federal taxpayer dollars from funding abortions for those who rely on Medicaid. His stance was in keeping with his voting record as a sitting US senator: in 1977, Biden voted to remove Hyde Amendment exceptions for victims of rape and incest or in cases where a pregnant person’s life was at risk. In 1981, he voted again to remove those exceptions, helping to usher in the most restrictive ban on federal funds ever passed by Congress.

After intense public and political backlash, then-candidate Biden reversed his position on the Hyde Amendment — yet the stain of his initial, defiance stance remains.

The post-debate discourse surrounding Biden’s ability to successfully fulfill the obligations of a second presidential term will no doubt continue — his debate performance has reportedly (and understandably) filled Democratic operatives, donors, sitting legislators and voters with fear and anxiety.

That task cannot be accomplished if the Democratic candidate cannot adequately and forcefully advocate for abortion rights. And Biden absolutely hasn’t.

As a pregnant person living in a state with a near-total abortion ban, that knowledge fills me with dread.