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President’s Power to Affect National Policy: The Case of Abortion

Probably, none of the important and controversial policies can be implemented without the participation of the country’s chief executive. For this reason, it is crucial to analyze which official and nonofficial tools a president of the United States can use to influence the policy regarding the legality of abortion. On the one hand, the president has constitutional rights to influence the decisions of both the legislative and judicial branches. On the other hand, he/she can use charisma and orator skills to persuade Congress and public opinion.

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President’s Legislative and Judicial Powers

Firstly, the president can influence the policy related to abortion through the right to veto. It means that the head of an executive branch can refuse to sign the bills that contradict his political, moral, or social views. Therefore, if the president supports the women’s free choice regarding this matter, he/she would most probably not approve any law that threatens the right to abortion. Although, in this case, Congress can nullify the presidential veto, it is very unlikely that it would be possible due to the fact that abortion is a highly controversial topic. Moreover, solely the fact that the president can refuse to sign the bill may significantly affect the parliament’s decision-making process.

Secondly, the president of the U.S. can appoint the entire federal judiciary, including justices of the Supreme Court. Yet, this is only possible with the approval of the Senate (Barbour, 2020). For instance, ex-president Donald Trump could appoint an associate justice Amy Barret who holds conservative views as the majority in Senate were members of the Republican party. As a result, there is a high probability that the current six-to-three conservative-liberal bench can overturn the case of Roe v. Wade – a landmark Supreme Court decision that protected abortion rights (Biskupic, 2020). Thus, it is seen that if the president has support from Congress’s upper chamber, he/she can significantly affect the judicial decisions.

Additionally, the president can appoint the members of the Cabinet of the U.S. and the Executive Office of the President. However, as for the latter, the country leader’s power is limited as his/her decision necessitates the approval of the Senate. Nevertheless, despite that president still has great power to decide who will be responsible for certain executive functions and, consequently, shape the implementation of policies.

Nonofficial Power Tools

Other methods that the president can use to affect the policy regarding abortion do not refer to the legitimate functions; rather, they constitute unofficial tools that help to extend the sphere of his/her influence. One of such tools is the country leader’s ability to persuade people in Congress. In this regard, Richard Neustadt – political scientist and advisor of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson – argued that ‘power to persuade’ is the most important quality a chief executive can have (Drezner, 2020). This ability is mainly determined but not limited to the president’s natural charisma and orator skills (Ginsberg, 2016). Therefore, if the head of the state possesses such characteristics, there is a greater possibility that he/she can persuade members of Congress to act according to one’s will. Nevertheless, it would be fair to claim that in the case of abortion policy, the president’s power to persuade is probably not sufficient on its own as there is a huge polarization between parties nowadays. For this reason, there is another powerful unofficial tool that can significantly impact the country’s policy which is public opinion.

Indeed, if the president is able to persuade a significant percentage of citizens that abortion should be legally allowed/forbidden, then this electorate support can be used as leverage in persuading the Congress members or judges. For example, Christenson and Kriner (2019) found that the more public backing president has, the more unilateral is his/her governing. In other words, those leaders that are popular among people tend to have a greater power to persuade Congress. Thus, the extent to which the president can affect the country’s policy is significantly determined by the combination of power to persuade and the ability to gain public support.

However, regardless of a leader’s personal abilities, there are certain external constraints that presidents face concerning their ability to attract people’s sympathies. First of all, it is affected by the overall economic situation in the country. Without a doubt country’s leader can affect the economic and financial prosperity of the country, but that influence is not that substantial. Nevertheless, the presidents are most of the time considered as those who are fully responsible for this sphere; thus, making the changes in public sentiments are partly disconnected from personal actions. According to Campello and Zucco (2016), there are two economic factors that determine people’s support of the country’s leader the most, namely commodity prices and interest rates. Also, another major external factor includes the so-called cycle effect, which implies that the popularity of the president would be the highest during the first 100 days of his/her stay in the White House. For this reason, heads of the state should seek to implement their visions as soon as they are granted executive power (Barbour, 2020). Otherwise, as mentioned earlier, there would be a lack of leverage, which would help influence the decisions of the legislative and judicial branches.

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President’s Actions to Promote Abortion Rights

Based on what was discussed above, now it is possible to elaborate on what the president could potentially do to promote pro-abortion policies. Firstly, the head of the state can refuse to sign the bills that Congress passed. Additionally, the country leader’s power to solely appoint members of the president’s branch and appoint Cabinet members, although with the Senate’s approval, further strengthens his/her control over the implementation of pro-abortion policies. Finally, he/she can use the power to persuade and people’s support as leverage. As a result, usage of these and some other methods can create great pressure on members of the parliament to legalize abortion on a federal level.

As for the judiciary branch, the president can appoint the judges and the Supreme Court justices. Thus, it will ensure that the case of Roe v. Wade would not be overturned or other important pro-abortion precedential decisions would appear. Moreover, it is important to notice that the president has pardoning power which would potentially allow him to release those who were convicted of the crime (Barbour, 2020). Therefore, the head of the state can effectively nullify all the judicial decisions concerning abortion that he/she finds opposite to one’s ideology.


In conclusion, it is necessary to analyze how other branches of the U.S. government can limit the power of the president to influence the policy regarding abortion. The legislative branch, for instance, can disapprove the country leader’s choice of Cabinet members and, thus, make the executive branch uncoordinated in its actions regarding the implementation of pro-abortion policies. Also, the Senate can impeach the president if two-thirds of the voices would support this decision. On the other hand, the judicial branch can declare the president’s actions unconstitutional and, as a consequence, deter the attempts to impact the mentioned policy. Last but not least, it is also important to consider the power of media that can significantly affect and shape public opinion regarding abortion issues or the president himself/herself. In this case, it is highly unlikely that the head of the state would be able to deliver pro-abortion decisions successfully.


Biskupic, J. (2020). Amy Coney Barrett joins the Supreme Court in unprecedented times. CNN. Web.

Barbour, C. (2020). AmGov: Long story short. SAGE Publications.

Campello, D., & Zucco Jr, C. (2016). Presidential success and the world economy. The Journal of Politics, 78(2), 589-602.

Christenson, D. P., & Kriner, D. L. (2019). Does public opinion constrain presidential unilateralism? American Political Science Review, 113(4), 1071-1077.

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Drezner, D. W. (2020). Immature leadership: Donald Trump and the American presidency. International Affairs, 96(2), 383-400.

Ginsberg, B. (2016). Presidential government. Yale University Press.

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