Biden Takes on Republican-Led Abortion Bans in State of the Union

President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber on March 7, 2024. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Biden’s State of the Union (SOTU) forcefully outlined the need for reproductive healthcare access and sounded a three-fold warning to the American people about: the dangers of abortion bans passed by Republican lawmakers at the state level; Republican obstruction in Congress to restore abortion rights at national level; and the federal abortion ban Republicans seek to enact. 

“There are state laws banning the right to choose, criminalizing doctors, and forcing survivors of rape and incest to leave their states as well to get the care they need,” Biden said in his Thursday night address. “Many of you in this chamber and my predecessor are promising to pass a national ban on reproductive freedom. My God, what freedoms will you take away next?”

He expressed his desire to “restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land again” and warned Republican colleagues of the power of women voters in the 2024 elections, who will no doubt be motivated by the issue of abortion and reproductive health at the ballot box, as they have in numerous prior elections

The relatively lengthy segment devoted to abortion and reproductive rights was a sign that Biden and Democrats see abortion as a winning issue at the polls. A national poll late last year by Lake Research Partners for Ms. and the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) showed similar findings: Almost three-quarters (74 percent) of all voters—including half of Republicans and 81 percent of Independents—support a person’s right to make their own reproductive decisions without government interference, including about abortion, contraception and continuing a pregnancy; and among voters who support abortion rights, especially younger women, abortion and women’s rights combined are top issues that will determine their vote.

“Those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade have no clue about the power of women in America,” Biden said. “They found out though when reproductive freedom was on the ballot and won in 2022, 2023, and they will find out again, in 2024.”

The speech took place as dueling crises in reproductive health are coming more and more into view.

  • Twenty-one states ban abortion or restrict the procedure earlier in pregnancy than the standard set by Roe v. Wade.
  • Extreme state laws in many of these states criminalize doctors who provide abortion care, forcing countless women to carry nonviable pregnancies to term, or flee the state to seek life-saving care elsewhere.
  • More bans are on the way: There have been 39 bills introduced so far to ban all or most abortions in 2024 legislative sessions.
  • An Alabama Supreme Court ruling issued last month declaring that embryos are children sent shockwaves across the nation, halting IVF procedures in the state for weeks. Last week, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) tanked a Senate bill that would have protected access to IVF nationwide.
  • Later this month, the Supreme Court will review a Fifth Circuit Court decision drastically limiting access to the abortion pill mifepristone, with a decision expected in the summer. A ruling upholding the circuit court decision would further devastate the landscape for abortion access. 

Additionally, SOTU guests brought the issue of reproductive rights into focus. Some notable attendees:

  • Amanda Zurawski, lead plaintiff in Zurawski v. State of Texasthe first lawsuit brought on behalf of women denied abortions since the Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion—which goes to full trial on March 25.
  • Kate Cox, a mother from Texas who had to travel out of state for a medically necessary abortion. Biden mentioned Cox by name in his speech: “Her own life and ability to have children in the future were at risk. It’s happening to too many others.” 
  • Dr. Damla Karsan, Cox’s doctor, an OB-GYN and co-plaintiff in Zurawski v. State of Texas.
  • Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an abortion provider in Indiana who was targeted by Republicans for providing care to a 10-year old victim of rape.
  • Brittany Watts, an Ohio woman charged with a felony after experiencing a miscarriage.
  • Latorya Beasley, whose embryo transfer was abruptly canceled in the wake of the Alabama Supreme Court ruling on IVF. Biden mentioned Beasley by name and challenged his Republican colleagues to “stand up for rights like hers” and “guarantee the right to IVF nationwide.”
  • Elizabeth Carr, the first baby born via IVF in the U.S.

Members of the House Democratic Women’s Caucus wore white in support of reproductive rights to the address, as well as pins that read “Fighting for Reproductive Freedom.” 

“Our message is clear: Women must be able to access the healthcare they need to control their own lives and futures. That means women, not politicians, should be in charge of whether, when, and how to start or grow their families,” Democratic Women’s Caucus chair Lois Frankel said in a news release. “That includes access to birth control, access to abortion, and access to IVF.”

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


Roxanne Szal (or Roxy) is the managing digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. She is also a mentor editor for The OpEd Project. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.