The right to a legal and safe abortion is fundamental in this country, but it may not be a right for much longer. Last month, The Supreme Court heard arguments about a Mississippi law that would ban abortion 15 weeks into a pregnancy. This law is a violation of the decision reached in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which dictates that no state can outlaw abortion before a fetus is viable, which typically happens around 24-25 weeks of pregnancy. The timing of this law is no coincidence; Donald Trump was able to appoint three of the nine Supreme Court Justices during his presidency, meaning that the court currently has a six to three conservative supermajority. Many red states that have been encroaching on abortion rights for decades see this as their best opportunity to overturn Casey, and possibly even Roe v. Wade.
Experts have theorized that Mississippi is likely to be successful in its defense of the bill. Mary Ziegler, an expert on the legal history of reproduction at Florida State University College of Law told VICE News she thought the chances of Roe being overturned are “one million percent.”
So, with the near-certain possibility of abortion rights being overturned this year, what are Democrats doing about it? The answer: little to nothing. Earlier this December, Senate Democrats tweeted “ELECT DEMOCRATS TO PROTECT ABORTION RIGHTS!” and the replies were fraught with contention. One user wrote, “If only there were something 50 Democratic Senators plus a Democratic Vice President working with a Democratic President and Democratic House of Representatives could do,” another said simply, “I already did???” The consensus was clear; Twitter users all agreed that electing Democrats had no effect on the protection of abortion rights.
Given the current political landscape, this tweet from Senate Democrats felt decidedly tone-deaf. Democrats saw record turnout in November and had a landslide victory at the federal level. Even Republican strongholds like Georgia flipped blue. With majority control of the Legislative and Executive branches of the federal government, Democrats have more opportunities to protect abortion access than they have since 2009. But Democrats are playing the victim, acting as if only there had been more turnout there might have been a chance to protect Roe and Casey. It’s worth noting that the turnout for the 2020 presidential election was record-breaking for both Democrats and Republicans. The people showed up for Democrats, and now Democrats aren’t showing up for them.
Voters are extremely upset over this. Joe Biden especially has a responsibility to protect the right to abortion, but he has fallen silent on this issue since taking office. In fact, he has not verbally said the word ‘abortion’ publicly during his time as president, which can be verified on the website didjoebidensayabortionyet.org. Biden’s nonchalance toward protecting abortion is felt painfully by his supporters, especially because his presidential campaign promised to “codify” Roe v. Wade.
Contrary to what he might have you believe, Biden actually has some power over the outcome of this Supreme Court case and abortion rights overall. Biden can pack the court by appointing four more justices, or he can agree to sign a bill that would overturn the Senate filibuster. The filibuster is a common tool used by both parties, but more frequently Republicans, to block a bill with just 40 votes. It was a contentious debate topic during the 2020 primaries, with candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, both longtime Senators supporting its elimination. Joe Biden was a vocal supporter of the filibuster during his Senate career, but his support for it has wavered since becoming president. Early last year he was reported as wanting to change the filibuster, but not eliminate it entirely. Recently, and for the first time in his career, Biden has publicly supported an overturn of the Senate filibuster in order to protect voting rights, though he’s said nothing of protecting abortion access in a post-filibuster world. It will take more than just Joe Biden to overturn the filibuster. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have been outspoken against eliminating the filibuster, and no bill can be passed without their votes.
It is increasingly obvious that the filibuster is the roadblock between Democrats and accomplishing any piece of their agenda. As long as it stands, there is no hope of passing any legislation that might protect the fundamental right to abortion. But in order to get rid of it, Democrats will have to be completely united, which seems more and more unlikely by the day. Former Secretary of Labor under Clinton, Robert Reich said in a tweet on December 13th, “It’s the filibuster or voting rights. The filibuster or abortion rights. The filibuster or a living wage. The filibuster or democracy. This should not be a hard choice.” His words echo a recurring theme in American politics; time and time again Democrats have shown us that they are unable—or worse—unwilling to protect abortion.