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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Jill Biden, rebuking ‘extremist Republicans,’ discusses friend’s abortion

Jill Biden, the first lady, speaking during a visit to a cancer center in San Francisco. During the trip, she also went to a fund-raiser where she discussed abortion rights.

By Katie Rogers

First lady Jill Biden said late last week that she had once helped a friend recover from an abortion before there was a constitutional right to the procedure, evoking the issue in deeply personal terms at a political fundraiser as she warned of further restrictions from “extremist Republicans.”

Biden, who was introduced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., before speaking to a group of donors in San Francisco, said that in the late 1960s — years before the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade established a right to abortion — a friend got pregnant. At that time, abortion was outlawed in Pennsylvania, where Biden grew up.

Her friend, whom she did not name, told her that she had undergone a psychological evaluation to be declared mentally unfit before a doctor agreed to administer one.

“I went to see her in the hospital and then cried the whole drive home,” said Biden, who said she was 17 at the time. “When she was discharged from the hospital, she couldn’t go back to her house, so I gathered my courage and asked my mom, ‘Can she come stay with us?’”

Biden, now 71, said that her mother, Bonny Jean Jacobs, allowed her friend to visit and that the two kept it a secret. Jacobs died in 2008.

“Secrecy. Shame. Silence. Danger. Even death,” Biden said. “That’s what defined that time for so many women.”

President Joe Biden, a Roman Catholic who has struggled with his views over abortion access, often connects his argument to the broader right for Americans to make private medical decisions. In speeches and public statements, he uses the word “abortion” sparingly, focusing instead on broader phrases — such as “reproductive health” and “the right to choose” — that might resonate more widely with the public.

Jill Biden has also been judicious with her use of the word. But her story, shared publicly for the first time, cast the issue in a personal light as Democrats seek to capitalize on voter anger over the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade this summer to hold onto Congress in the November midterm elections. As abortion bans have taken effect in more than a dozen states, there are already signs that the issue has helped buoy the party against rampant inflation and the president’s poor approval ratings.

“I was shocked when the Dobbs decision came out,” Jill Biden said, referring to the case that overturned Roe. “It was devastating — how could we go back to that time?

“I thought of all the girls and women, like my friend, whose education, careers and future depended on the ability to choose when they have children.”

After decades of marriage to Joe Biden, the first lady, who teaches full time at a community college in Virginia, has evolved into an avid campaigner whose remarks often carry a personal touch.

Like her husband, she has often avoided confrontational language when talking about the Republican Party in public. (During Biden’s presidential campaign, she and her aides had decided that they could draw a contrast between her husband and then-President Donald Trump just by describing her husband, rather than attacking Trump directly.)

Still, both Bidens have started to take a more aggressive stance toward Republicans, who have broadly backed abortion restrictions, even as they have struggled to unite around the idea of a national ban. In her remarks, Biden repeatedly called their agenda “extremist.”

“But here’s the thing that those extremists don’t understand about women,” she said. “This isn’t the first time that we’ve been underestimated. It’s not the first time that someone has tried to tell us what we can and can’t do.”

As the midterms grow closer, Jill Biden is expected to ramp up her traveling and deliver speeches related to her own portfolio of issues, including cancer research, education and support for the military. But she will also emphasize fundraising and supporting Democrats in tight races, according to a person familiar with her plans.

On Friday, the fundraiser, which raised money for congressional Democrats, starting at $500 a plate, was tucked between a visit to a cancer research center and a Saturday event focused on military families in Seattle, where she plans to appear with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

During the event, Biden urged supporters to “defend congressional seats held by women like Teresa and Mary” — referring to Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez of New Mexico, a swing-district Democrat, and Rep. Mary Peltola of Alaska, a Democrat who won an August special election to replace Don Young, a Republican who died in March after serving there for 49 years.

“Women will not let this country go backwards,” Biden said. “We’ve fought too hard for too long. And we know that there is just too much on the line.”

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