US abortion rights: Joe Biden vows to veto national Abortion ban - what did President say in State of Union?

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Debate surrounding abortion in the US was thrown back into the limelight last summer when the Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion by overturning Roe v Wade.

President Joe Biden has promised to protect the right to safe abortions in the United States.

Speaking in a State of the Union address on Tuesday (7 February), Biden discussed the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe V Wade - and promised to veto any potential national abortion bans put forward by Republicans. It was his first State of the Union speech since the landmark ruling in June 2022.

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He said: “It is our duty to protect all the people’s right and freedoms. Congress must restore the right that was taken away in Roe V Wade. Make no mistake about it, if Congress passes a national abortion ban, I will veto it.”

Biden added that he and his vice president, Kamala Harris, were doing “everything” they could to “protect access to reproductive healthcare and safeguard patient safety.” He also condemned the “more than a dozen” states - which include Alabama, Kentucky, and Texas - that are already enforcing “extreme bans” on abortion.

His words come after the US’s Republican-led House pushed ahead with a trio of new anti-abortion measures earlier this month. Republicans first passed a bill that could subject doctors who perform abortions to criminal charges - and also passed a resolution condemning attacks on facilities, groups, and churches that oppose abortion rights. Opponents argued the measure was one-sided, highlighting the fact that it did nothing to condemn violence and harassment at facilities that help women seeking abortions.

US President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the US Capitol on 7 February, 2023 in Washington, DC. Credit: Getty ImagesUS President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the US Capitol on 7 February, 2023 in Washington, DC. Credit: Getty Images
US President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the US Capitol on 7 February, 2023 in Washington, DC. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

Meanwhile, a third measure was passed more quietly - hidden within a wider rule package concerning how the chamber will operate. Here, House Republicans supported regulations that would fast-track consideration of legislation permanently banning the use of federal funding for abortion.

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It is unlikely that the measures will pass in the US’s Democrat-led Senate, but are clear indicators of some Republicans’ insistence on highlighting their opposition to abortion.

When the Supreme Court first overturned Roe V Wade last summer - in a move which ended nearly 50 years of federal abortion protections - Biden was very outspoken about the ruling being a “tragic error.”

The US President said at the time: “It’s a sad day for the country in my view. The court has done what it has never done before: expressly take away a constitutional right that is so fundamental to so many Americans - [one] that had already been recognised.”

Prior to the midterm elections in November 2022, Biden also spoke out about abortions - warning voters that their decisions would impact the right to abortions. He repeatedly called on Congress to codify Roe V Wade into law.

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After Roe V Wade was overturned, several Republican-controlled states banned or heavily restricted abortion access - deepening the already contentious divide over the topic in the US.

Biden’s administration has responded to the decision over the past several months with a series of executive orders, which are aimed at expanding access to medication abortion in addition to protecting federally funded contraception services. But rights continue to be restricted across the country, and those who oppose abortion are still fighting for further bans.

Women's votes played a key role in holding back the Republican 'red wave' at the US midterm elections (Picture: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)Women's votes played a key role in holding back the Republican 'red wave' at the US midterm elections (Picture: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)
Women's votes played a key role in holding back the Republican 'red wave' at the US midterm elections (Picture: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)

What else did Biden say in State of Union address?

Biden also spoke about his plans for the economy - assuring Americans that he wants to invest in “places and people that have been forgotten.” He argued that “too many people have been left behind or treated like they’re invisible.”

The President went on to discuss insulin prices. His administration passed a $35 per month price cap on insulin as part of last year’s Inflation Reduction Act, but this was initially only applied to those beneficiaries covered by Medicare. Biden has renewed his calls and pushed for the policy to be applied to anyone with an insulin prescription.

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There was some controversy in the chamber when Biden repeated his accusation that the Republican Party was trying to cut entitlements to healthcare and social security. Many Republicans repeatedly heckled the President during his address, ignoring the occasional shushes from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Biden responded by saying he wasn’t arguing that all Republicans back reviewing entitlement programmes - but that “it’s being proposed”.

Finally, Biden also took a moment to pay tribute to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had to step down after the Republican Party won a majority in the November 2022 midterm elections. The President called her the “greatest speaker” ever.

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