US President Joe Biden vowed Tuesday to make a law enshrining nationwide abortion rights his top priority if Democrats win their uphill battle for Congress in looming midterm elections.
Biden's speech marked a newly intensified push by the White House to lift the party ahead of November 8, when Democrats hope to defy historical trends by retaining their razor-thin control of Congress.
Midterm votes typically see the party in the White House punished, and this year the Democrats face discontent over inflation, an unpopular president, and fierce cultural wars around schools, gender issues and abortion.
In abortion, however, Biden sees a potential game-changer, with anger seething over the Supreme Court's shock decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the ruling from half a century ago that enshrined access to abortions nationwide.
"Women all across the country, starting in my house, lost a fundamental right," Biden said in a speech in Washington.
Citing the "chaos and the heartache" for women seeking to terminate pregnancies, Biden said that in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling abortion bans had now been put in place by Republicans in 16 states, home to 26.5 million women.
And he cast the election as setting the stage for a momentous fight next year in the new Congress.
If Republicans win, any attempt to pass a national abortion ban will be stopped at his desk, Biden said. "I'll veto it."
If Democrats hold on, the priority would be a national abortion rights law, effectively overturning the Supreme Court ruling.
"The first bill I'll send to Congress will be to codify Roe v. Wade," Biden said, calling this a "promise."
"I'll sign it in January, 50 years after Roe was first decided the law of the land."
The White House would not say how Biden envisions details of the law and whether he would support any kind of restrictions on abortion.
"It should be something that is decided between a woman and her doctor, her family -- not politicians," Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
Passion yes, but votes?
There's no questioning the passion swirling around abortion on the political stage.
Roe v. Wade made the procedure legal everywhere, while the Supreme Court decision handed power fully back to individual state governments, prompting Republican leaderships across the country to swiftly move to impose restrictions or bans, in line with years of "right to life" campaigning.
The issue is potent, but there's no guarantee it will move the needle in three weeks.
Democratic officials, including Biden, have repeatedly suggested the possibility of an electoral uprising led by women.
"The court and extreme Republicans who have spent decades trying to overturn Roe are about to find out," Biden said. "They ain't seen nothing yet."
He referred to a surprisingly strong rejection by Kansas voters in August of a plan to strip abortion rights from the state's constitution.
"Come this November we're going to see what happens all over America," Biden said.
Polls consistently show that a majority of Americans believe abortion should be allowed. While most also think there should be some restrictions, only 13 percent, according to Gallup, support full bans.
The bad news for Democrats, however, is that polls show abortion is far down the list of concerns motivating most voters in the turmoil of post-pandemic US life.
A New York Times/Siena poll out this week showed that of likely voters, 26 percent named the economy as the top issue and 18 percent listed inflation, which is running at the highest rates in four decades.
Abortion scored a lowly five percent of likely voters.
Worryingly for Democrats, the poll also found a stunning shift from women independent voters.
In September, this group backed Democrats over Republicans by 14 points. The latest poll shows them backing Republicans by 18 points.