Biden’s State of the Union Address Shied Away From Using This Word, Causing Advocate Worries Ahead of the Election

By: Alex Trent | Published: Mar 11, 2024

While abortion and reproductive rights seemed to be a focal point of Biden’s State of the Union address, the reception of the speech has been mixed among activists and Biden supporters.

Some activists appreciated the issue being center stage in the Biden campaign, but others were uncomfortable by the lengths Biden went to in his speech to avoid using the word ‘abortion’.

State of the Union Address

President Biden delivered an annual speech in front of Congress called the State of the Union Address. Presidents take advantage of this speech where everyone’s attention is captivated to push policies and ideas they want Americans to focus on. 

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President Joe Biden speaks while VP Kamala Harris claps behind him.

Source: Wikimedia

Since this year is an election year for the president, the speech’s importance is slightly elevated. Many people look to this speech to set the tone for the election cycle and the administration’s goals for the rest of the year.

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Biden Promises to Enshrine Reproductive Freedom

In a win for abortion advocates, Biden used the speech to put forward a promise to sign a bill into law that would provide federal protections for abortion if given the chance.

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A 2021 portrait of President Biden wearing a suit and smiling in front of a US flag.

The White House/Wikimedia Commons

“Clearly, those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade have no clue about the power of women in America. They found out though when reproductive freedom was on the ballot and won in 2022, 2023, and they will find out again, in 2024. If Americans send me a Congress that supports the right to choose, I promise you, I will restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land again!”

Not Using the Word Abortion

For most of the actual speech, Biden refrained from using the word abortion, instead choosing to use the term “reproductive freedom” like when he voiced his opinion on Roe v. Wade.

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Pro-abortion protestors hold up signs expressing their views.

Source: Gayatri Malhotra/Unsplash

“Like most Americans, I believe Roe v. Wade got it right. And I thank Vice President Harris for being an incredible leader, defending reproductive freedom and so much more,” Biden said.

Abortion Got One Mention

The only time that Biden used the word ‘abortion’ was towards the beginning of the speech when he was introducing a guest and talking about a Texas law banning abortion.

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President Joe Biden is pictured with a beaming smile, standing behind a podium adorned with the Presidential Seal. He wears a blue suit and patterned tie, with microphones in front of him. The backdrop features the American flag

Source: POTUS/X

“Joining us tonight is Kate Cox, a wife and mother from Dallas.  When she became pregnant again, the fetus had a fatal condition. Her doctors told Kate that her own life and her ability to have children in the future were at risk if she didn’t act. Because Texas law banned abortion, Kate and her husband had to leave the state to get the care she needed.”

Prepared Remarks

According to the Associated Press, Biden’s prepared remarks for the speech originally had the word abortion in them. It seems that Biden decided to deviate from the plan, and chose to substitute various phrases like “freedom to choose” and “reproductive freedom” in its place.

Joe Biden holds a pen while at his desk.

Source: The White House/Wikimedia

It’s unclear what the motivation behind the decision was, but some are interpreting it as Biden thinks using the word can hurt him in some way. However, it’s not unusual for Presidents to deviate from the script in State of the Union speeches.

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Harm in the Decision

Kellie Copeland, the executive director of Pro-Choice, expressed her disagreement with the decision of the president to shy away from the word in his speech.

Protestors expressing pro-abortion views.

Source: Manny Becerra/Wikimedia

“By not saying the word ‘abortion,’ it implies that it’s taboo or something to be ashamed of. It’s stigmatizing and harmful. The president should do better.”

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Uproar Among Advocates

The President and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, Amy Hagstrom Miller described how there was an uproar among staff members in text message reactions about the term avoidance in the speech.

An abortion protest sign that says 'Not your body, not your choice.'

Source: Gayatri Malhotra/Wikimedia

“Abortion is what we provide and what people are being denied,” she said. “People don’t call us for a reproductive freedom appointment. They don’t ask for a bodily autonomy visit or a choice procedure. They call for abortion care, and abortion is a professional medical term for the health care we provide. Avoiding the word just shows the power of the historical stigma around abortion.”

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Biden’s History With Abortion

Another reason abortion advocates are skittish about Biden’s reluctance to use the word is his past history of opposition to abortion.

A media event for the Biden-Harris campaign.

Manny Becerra/Unsplash

Early in his political career, Biden opposed federal funding for abortions and supported stricter abortion restrictions during the later stages of pregnancy. He also was critical of the original Roe v. Wade decision, remarking that it went too far.

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Biden’s Evolution

Biden’s aides and his campaign representatives acknowledge these past contradictions but insist that he is still the better candidate on this issue today. Lauren Hitt, a spokesman for the Biden campaign compared Biden and Trump on abortion.

Side-by-side images of former President Donald Trump on the left and President Joe Biden on the right. Trump is pictured with a slight smile, wearing a black suit with a red tie, and the background shows various national flags. Biden is captured speaking at a podium, gesturing with his right hand, wearing a dark suit with a blue tie

Source: Wikimedia Commons

“Donald Trump on the other hand has repeatedly used disgusting and derogatory language when referring to women, and he will institute a national abortion ban. The choice in this election is incredibly clear.” (via AP News)

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Questionable Strategy

Biden’s political team is hoping that by letting Biden be how he is, he will appear more honest on the issues. They don’t want to try to force Biden to use the word. However, this may work to his detriment. Sophia Jordan Wallace, a political science professor at the University of Washington, explained how voters might see his word choice which could alienate some people.

President Joe Biden speaks to an audience at a campaign rally

Source: Wikipedia

“The question is if people sincerely believe that this framing is because he’s thinking about abortion plus other issues or whether he’s using that framing to avoid saying the word ‘abortion’ due to discomfort.”

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Testing the Waters

Biden’s decision to omit using the word abortion throughout most of the speech at the State of the Union may have been a good testing ground for this campaign strategy. Based on the reaction of his voters, he may change course to develop a stronger-style rhetorical strategy around abortion.

President Joe Biden talking on the phone in his office.

The White House/Wikimedia

Many advocates wish Biden would use stronger language on this issue that they see as central to his campaign and the outcome of the 2024 election.

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