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Biden’s State of the Union Message on Abortion Was Mostly a Silent One

Joe Biden raises a fist while standing at a podium. Kamala Harrise claps behind him, standing in front of an American flag.

President Joe Biden has spent much of the last year promising to fight to protect abortion access. As our basic and essential healthcare rights have been eroded by the Supreme Court and attacked by state lawmakers, Biden and his administration have said that this issue is a priority. Many of us expected it to also be a priority in Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, not just because abortion has been a major political flashpoint since SCOTUS overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, but because Biden gave us all a clear indication that it was on his mind going into this speech.

The President—along with members of Congress—gets to invite guests to be present during the State of the Union. And, as The Washington Post put it in a recent article, “Seeing who shows up as a guest to a president’s State of the Union address is like reading a brief on the administration’s agenda for the next year.” This year, Biden’s guests included Bono, the parents of Tyre Nichols (to whom he devoted what was by far the most powerful portion of the entire speech), Paul Pelosi, and Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the Monterey Park shooter on Lunar New Year, to name a few.

Attending as a guest of First Lady Jill Biden were Amanda and Josh Zurawski, who were severely impacted by the attacks on abortion access. The Texas Tribune writes:

Last year, Zurawski’s water broke when she was only 18 weeks pregnant. Although there was no way her fetus would ultimately survive, there was still cardiac activity, so her doctor refused to induce labor, citing the state’s abortion laws. Instead, they sent her home. Only after Zurawski developed sepsis, a life-threatening infection, were doctors willing to terminate her pregnancy.

What did Biden say about abortion?

Having the Zurawskis present at this event is a clear signal that abortion will be a priority for the White House in the year ahead. But that message, as spoken aloud during the speech, was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. Biden did address abortion, but he dedicated about 30 seconds to the issue, promising to veto any attempt by Congress to pass a federal ban.

For a man who seemed to struggle for years to even say the word “abortion,” this is definitely a big step. But he also spent much more time in this same speech talking about Ticketmaster and other “junk fees” than he did addressing attacks on fundamental health care and that is disheartening to see.

There were other guests in attendance whose presence highlighted the battle for abortion access, though they were not invited by the Bidens. Anabely Lopes was forced to fly from Florida to Washington D.C. to obtain an abortion last year after her doctors told her, at 16 weeks of pregnancy, that her child would die within days of birth if carried to term. She was invited to the event as a guest of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Also, Olivia Julianna was invited as a guest of Rep. Nanette D. Barragán. Last year, Julianna raised $2 million for abortion access after getting into an online feud with Matt Gaetz, who thought it would be a good and fine idea to body-shame the teenager.

She’s clearly still winning that fight, BTW.

(featured image: Jacquelyn Martin-Pool/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.