Opinion: Among all the possible arguments for Biden, Democrats only need to make one

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Editor’s Note: Ana Marie Cox is a political journalist and writer in Austin. The views expressed here are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.

To win in November, President Joe Biden and other Democrats must seize upon and never let up on abortion rights as their most important policy focus. Democrats’ historical reticence to give a full-throated and explicit defense of abortion rights or to take advantage of congressional majorities to enshrine those rights into law kept the door open for Republicans to find a way to overturn Roe v Wade. The painful irony is that because of this policy mismanagement, Democrats have transmuted the hardship and suffering of hundreds of thousands of would-be abortion-seekers into a wave of ballot-box endorsements for reproductive choice. And in no place is this alchemy more vital to Biden’s chances of sealing a second term than in the Sunshine State.

Ana Marie Cox - <em>Faith Fonseca</em>
Ana Marie Cox - Faith Fonseca

This week, the Supreme Court of Florida ruled to both allow the state’s six-week abortion ban to stand and to allow a state-wide vote in November to enshrine abortion as a right protected by the state’s constitution. These decisions put a spotlight on the nexus of real policy outcomes and political theatrics underpinning the 2024 contest.

The theatrics have played out with once-ardent anti-abortion Republican politicians suddenly forced to reckon with the overwhelmingly unpopular outcomes that recognizing “fetal personhood” — an official GOP position for decades — creates. In the wake of the Alabama Supreme Court decision applying the logic of personhood to in vitro fertilization, the state legislature immediately passed legislation to protect the IVF process that relies on embryos. But that wasn’t enough to keep an Alabama IVF clinic from announcing that it was discontinuing the procedure.

Former President Donald Trump, canny as always about polling, continues to try to thread an unsteady needle and is once again trying to postpone his day of reckoning by saying that he’s going to be making a statement about abortion next week after being pushed to respond to Florida’s six-week ban. His campaign adviser Brian Hughes said Trump endorses “preserving life” but carefully avoided, for now, a position on the ballot measure or six-week policy itself. As Hughes put it: “He supports states’ rights because he supports the voters’ right to make decisions for themselves.” The statement ended with the only rhetorical gambit left to Republicans, the same lie about the Democratic position that the GOP has used for decades: “Where President Trump thinks voters should have the last word, Biden and many Democrats want to allow abortion up until the moment of birth and force taxpayers to pay for it,” another spokesperson said.

It would be more accurate to say, “Where the Democrats think women should have the last word, Trump and many Republicans want to take decisions about abortion out of their hands and force them to pay for it.”

On the ground, political performance runs up against people’s lives and it’s the Republican position of fetal personhood and only the most narrow exceptions to abortion access that reveal themselves to be radical political stances with radical outcomes: There are now millions of people who are living under the anti-abortion laws the Dobbs ruling overturning Roe v. Wade made possible. I count in that number not just the women forced to face a pregnancy resulting from sexual assault and not just the women who have been prevented from ending a pregnancy that threatens their physical well-being, but both those groups’ loved ones and their communities. Then there are, of course, the women who have a child they would prefer not to have (post-Dobbs, birth rates went up in states with abortion bans by about 2%). Now we must consider adding to that population some of those who wish to turn to IVF procedures to create families.

Nationally, Democrats keep wanting to make All the Arguments for themselves: the “Biden economy,” the specter of “MAGA extremists” and, comically, “no, Biden’s not that old!” But among all possible arguments for Biden, Democrats really need to only make one. Advancing abortion rights, combined with the inarguable truth that Republicans only want to restrict them more, will bring out the young voters whose enthusiasm is wavering and the suburban women who held their noses to vote for Trump last time.

This calculus may seem callous, but the extraordinary number of people damaged by GOP abortion restrictions is the key to a Biden second term. The Biden team seems to recognize this unprecedented if morally unwelcome opportunity; in March, Kamala Harris became the first vice president to do more on the campaign trail than talk about the existence of abortion clinics. She visited one. More than that, she talked about the corporeal circumstances of abortion, mentioning uteruses, fibroids and women miscarrying in toilets. These are the exact terms and vivid images that have been mostly missing from Democratic rhetoric, even as they are an unavoidable part of women’s lives.

This bluntness is in part possible because it’s now unavoidable. There is the growing cohort who have experienced the reality of bodies denied an abortion, of course. Beyond them, news outlets reporting on cases like that of Kate Cox, who had to leave her state of Texas to get an abortion in a life-threatening pregnancy. No one needs to be dainty about the word “abortion” anymore. No one needs to assure voters that they are for “choice” but against “abortion on demand” as Biden did as recently as February.

Via the ballot box, voters keep telling Democrats that this aggressiveness is what they want, though – as could be true in Florida – the electoral victories have come at the expense of having the right to abortion taken away. Marilyn Lands credited her willingness to tell her own unvarnished abortion experience and campaign on the lack of abortion access in Alabama for her special statehouse election victory that flipped the once-safe Republican seat.

That abortion access keeps winning during special elections and off-year contests in red states — prompting unusually high turn-out as well — should tell Democrats just how central and unequivocal their message should be. In Florida, Democrats can and should be especially bold. Abortion will be on the ballot next to Biden. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political victories have come in part because he is able to rouse his voters in ways Democrats have not (running Charlie Crist against him in the last election veers close to malpractice in that regard). The rolling out of the DeSantis-endorsed six-week ban will hurt people. Democrats would not be ghoulish to capitalize on this; indeed, it is a moral imperative that they insist on capitalizing on it.

Since the fall of Roe, voters have championed reproductive access over and over and the Biden campaign has responded with welcome if belated forthrightness. As the Florida Supreme Court hands down two decisions that place access front and center in the most valuable (and barely still swinging) swing state in the country, Democrats’ long-time reluctance to embrace without reservation or exception expansive abortion access – to talk about it frankly and specifically – puts them at risk of losing their once-reliable advantage among female voters and young people, and with it, the presidency.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com