WASHINGTON (The Hill) — Pres. Joe Biden on Thursday said the Senate should carve out an exception to the 60-vote filibuster to codify abortion rights after the Supreme Court overturned the precedent set by Roe v. Wade.
“The most important thing to be clear about is I believe we have to codify Roe v. Wade in the law, and the way to do that is to make sure the Congress votes to do that,” Biden said at a press conference at the NATO summit in Spain. “If the filibuster gets in the way, it’s like voting rights, it should be we provide an exception for this, requiring an exception to the filibuster for this action to deal with the Supreme Court decision.”
A change to the filibuster, which requires 60 votes in the Senate for most legislation to pass, would make it so that abortion rights or broader privacy rights like access to contraception and the right to same-sex marriage could be codified into law with a simple majority. Democrats hold the Senate majority with 50 senators, plus Vice President Harris acting as a tie-breaking vote.
Democrats have sounded the alarm that striking down Roe could be the first in a series of court decisions rolling back precedents that protected access to contraception and same-sex marriage after Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion that those precedents should be revisited.
But Biden’s previous call for a filibuster exception for voting rights legislation failed to gain traction, and there is unlikely to be enough support for a similar carve-out for abortion. All 50 Democrats would need to support the change, and Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have expressed concerns about altering the filibuster.
The White House has been under intense pressure by Democratic lawmakers and voters to take action after the Supreme Court last week struck down Roe v. Wade, eliminating the nearly 50-year-old constitutional right to abortion and handing states authority to drastically limit or ban the procedure. The court’s ruling upheld Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, which directly clashed with Roe’s requirement that states permit abortion up to the point of fetal viability, around 24 weeks, as well as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 1992 decision that reaffirmed Roe’s core holding.
The court decision sparked outcry across the country over the rolling back of women’s rights and access to reproductive health care. And the White House came under scrutiny for its lack of response given a draft of the court decision had leaked weeks earlier.
The White House has so far expressed frustration with the decision, but it has offered few tangible measures to try and protect abortion access in the immediate aftermath of the ruling. The Pentagon said in a memo it will continue to provide abortions at military facilities in cases when the mother’s life is at risk or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
The White House has knocked down talk from some lawmakers to protect abortion access on federal lands, arguing it would have too many unintended consequences.
Biden said Thursday he will meet with governors who have acted to protect abortion access once he returns to Washington, D.C. “The one thing that has been destabilizing is the outrageous behavior of the Supreme Court the United States in overruling, not only Roe v. Wade, but essentially challenging the right to privacy,” he said.