President Joe Biden on Friday called on Americans to “march forward with purpose” as Democrats continue efforts to restore American women’s right not to be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term against their will, in a presidential proclamation marking a half-century since the Supreme Court issued the landmark Roe v Wade ruling which, until last June, allowed women to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy under most circumstances.
Mr Biden noted that this Sunday’s anniversary date will be the first in half a century without the constitutional right to abortion care affirmed by the landmark US Supreme Court case.
The court’s conservative supermajority struck down the precedent and revoked a constitutional right to abortion in its June decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, putting “the health and lives of women across this nation at risk,” the president wrote on 20 January.
“Never before has the Court taken away a right so fundamental to Americans,” he added. “Today, trailblazers who fought heroically for the Roe v Wade decision are watching the next generation grow up without its protections.”
The presidential proclamation comes as anti-abortion groups gathered in the nation’s capital for the annual March for Life event. Because the Supreme Court has overturned Roe, fulfilling a longtime goal of the anti-abortion movement, the activists and faith groups who came to Washington on Friday have shifted their annual rally to the grounds of the US Capitol in an effort to urge Congress to enact a national ban on abortion.
But Mr Biden said the ruling issued by a seven-justice majority of the high court on 22 January, 1973 was the correct one.
“It was a balanced decision with broad national consensus that the majority of Americans have continued to support for the last 50 years. And it was a constitutional principle upheld by justices appointed by Democratic and Republican Presidents alike,” he said, adding that the now-overturned decision “reaffirmed basic principles of equality, reinforced the fundamental right to privacy, and resolved that women in this country could control their own destinies – making deeply personal decisions free from political interference”.
The president has once again urged Congress to codify Roe protections into law, though that legislation has stalled and is unlikely to be picked up in a Republican-controlled House, which passed two anti-abortion measures earlier this month.
“Since the Court’s decision to overturn Roe, Americans across the country – from California to Kansas to Michigan – have made clear at the ballot box that they believe the right to choose is fundamental and should be preserved,” he said. “Still, we know that the only way to truly secure the right to choose is for the Congress to codify the protections of Roe v Wade. I continue to call on the Congress to pass legislation to make those protections the law of the land once and for all. Until then, I will continue to use my Executive authority to protect women and families from harm in the wake of the Dobbs decision.”
He also urged Americans to “honour” the “generations of advocates who have fought for reproductive freedom, to recognize the countless women whose lives and futures have been saved and shaped by the Roe v Wade decision”.
The anniversary of the Roe decision will also be marked by other top Biden administration officials, including Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, who on Friday is set to speak at a Wisconsin family planning clinic that is no longer permitted to perform abortions under state law.
Vice President Kamala Harris is also set to mark the occasion with remarks on Sunday, which a senior administration official said would focus on the Biden administration’s “continued focus on the fight for reproductive rights at the state level” which she will deliver from Florida.
The official said the Sunshine State is “a prime example that the forefront of the fight remains in the states and is an unfortunate illustration of the stakes of this moment”.
“In her remarks, the Vice President will make the case for national legislation to protect reproductive rights, and she will draw a contrast between the Republicans’ extreme approach to reproductive health and that of the Biden-Harris administration,” the official said, adding later that Ms Harris would “highlight that the issue of reproductive rights is ... about freedom and liberty,” as well as “call on Americans to join the administration in the fight and thank advocates for their tireless work”.