Opinion

The debate over Biden's executive order on abortion

The sharpest opinions on the debate from around the web

Last week, President Biden signed an executive order aimed at protecting access to abortion. Critics say it didn't go far enough.

Slow to act

Aside from a few comments immediately after the Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion with its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, it took Biden nearly two weeks to respond substantively. Twitter users mocked Biden as the "somebody should do something" president, a leader who acts as though every problem comes out of nowhere and there's nothing he can do to solve any of them.

This frustration could have electoral consequences. In a poll conducted earlier this month, 64 percent of likely 2024 Democratic primary voters said they'd prefer a candidate other than Biden to be the nominee. Of that group, 10 percent said they wanted a candidate who was more progressive, while 32 percent said Biden isn't doing a good job.

The president also took flak after The Washington Post reported that "Biden and his team were ... caught off guard by the timing" of the Supreme Court's decision. Political commentator Roland Martin wondered "[h]ow in the hell" Biden managed to be caught off guard by a decision that "leaked two months earlier."

Too little too late

Christian Paz of Vox noted that, instead of taking concrete steps to safeguard abortion access, Democrats immediately began campaigning and fundraising on the issue. This messaging, Paz wrote, "created the impression" that "beyond telling people to vote, Democratic leaders have no concrete plans." It looked an awful lot like they cared more about winning elections than about defending abortion access, Paz argued. Former President Barack Obama was similarly criticized for failing to codify Roe v. Wade (1973) when he had the votes to do it.

Li Zhou, also at Vox, called Biden's executive order "an important first step" but argued that it was too vague and wouldn't be enough to satisfy abortion rights activists.

She also conceded that more "creative" tactics, like setting up abortion clinics on federal lands or declaring a public health emergency, might not help. "The White House has previously said that it was worried providers and patients could be prosecuted by state officials even if clinics were set up on federal lands," Zhou wrote. Meanwhile, White House Gender Policy Council director Jen Klein said the Public Health Emergency Fund has less than $100,000 left in it.

The view from the right

Political commentator Ben Shapiro tweeted that Democrats are turning against Biden because they've realized he is "physically incapable of expressing the performative outrage" they demand when it comes to abortion.

The hard truth, as some commentators note, is that Biden can't do much more than make token gestures. The Supreme Court has spoken, and Democrats don't have the votes to codify Roe. National Review's editorial board described Biden's executive order as "more a signal of the administration's desire for expansive abortion access than a set of actionable policies." The order, for example, creates an interagency Task Force on Reproductive Health Care Access, "which is primed to accomplish essentially nothing."

In the meantime, Biden has urged abortion rights advocates to "keep protesting." White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre even defended a group of demonstrators who forced Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to leave a Washington, D.C., restaurant via the back exit. Rich Lowry of National Review called Jean-Pierre's comments "shameful."

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