Blocked by Congress, Biden seeks to rally voters on abortion

WASHINGTON — Minutes after the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade last summer, a group of West Wing aides rushed to the Oval Office to brief President Joe Biden on the decision. As they crafted a speech, Biden was the first person in the room to say what his administration’s rallying cry has been since.

Passing federal legislation, he told the group, was “the only thing that will really restore the rights that were just taken away,” recalled Jen Klein, director of the Gender Policy Council of the White House.

But if the prospect of codifying Roe’s protections in Congress seemed remote a year ago, it’s virtually impossible to imagine it now, with an ascendant far-right bloc in the House and a slim Democratic majority in the Senate.

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Instead, as the battle over abortion rights turns to individual states, Biden administration officials are working with a limited set of tools, including executive orders and the galvanizing power of justice. presidency, to claim that Republicans running for office next year would even impose new restrictions on abortion.

“Make no mistake, this election is about freedom on the ballot,” Biden said Friday at a Democratic National Committee event, where he garnered endorsements from several abortion rights groups. .

Vice President Kamala Harris gave a speech in North Carolina on Saturday encouraging Americans to use their vote to protect abortion rights.

“Extremist Republicans in Congress have moved to ban abortions nationwide,” Harris said in the speech marking the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate the constitutional right to abortion after nearly 50 years. “But I have news for them: we don’t have that.”

She added that “this fight will not truly be won until we guarantee this right to every American, which means that ultimately the United States Congress must put back in place what the Court supreme withdrew”.

Klein, who recalled refreshing news websites the day the ruling was released last June, said she was “shocked but not surprised” by the court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

She added that “the efforts to really take extreme measures do not represent the majority of opinion on where people stand on this.”

The White House argued that Biden was reaching the legal limits of his powers through executive actions. On Friday, his latest executive action in response to the Dobbs decision directed federal agencies to seek ways to ensure and expand access to birth control.

Biden previously released a memorandum to protect access to abortion drugs at pharmacies and took steps to protect patients who cross state lines for treatment. The Department of Justice has taken legal action against some states restricting abortion. And the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the abortion drug mifepristone was quickly challenged in court. (In April, the Supreme Court issued an order to preserve access to the pill as litigation continues.)

As the White House has clarified its message on abortion rights, framing the fight as a fight for privacy, security and civil rights, so has the president. Biden, a Catholic who attends Mass almost weekly, has struggled throughout his career to defend abortion rights. Ever since Roe was knocked down, he’s become more outspoken.

“I think he’s someone who really has his own personal opinions, and it was also pretty clear that Roe vs. Wade was rightfully decided,” Klein said.

A recent poll shows that a majority of Americans might feel the same way. A USA Today/Suffolk University poll this month found that one in four Americans said restrictive abortion bans enacted at the state level had made them more supportive of abortion rights. Another poll, conducted by PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist, said 61% of American adults support abortion rights.

Some activists suspect that some Republican presidential candidates are paying attention to the ballot. Mike Pence, the former vice president and presidential candidate, said Friday he would support a 15-week nationwide ban on the procedure. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott also supported such a ban.

Other candidates avoided a final position. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida signed a six-week abortion ban into state law, although he did not say whether he would support a nationwide ban.

“It was the right thing to do,” DeSantis said Friday after signing the law.

Republican primary frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, takes credit for appointing three Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, but he has so far also resisted passing a federal ban.

As the GOP field rallies, the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee will make abortion a primary focus of the president’s re-election effort. The Biden campaign launched ads this month focused on battleground states, including funding billboards in Times Square that will highlight Republican efforts to restrict access to abortion.

The DNC also encourages local Democrats to pressure Republicans to clarify their stance on nationwide bans, believing this will help contrast Biden’s approach with extremist positions, according to a DNC official.

At the White House, Klein said officials were tracking court cases in individual states and bringing together abortion rights activists to compare notes on which policies had succeeded.

Still, campaigners are wary that court victories may be short-lived and do not avert the threat of a broader abortion ban as legislation would.

In recent months, administration officials have routinely brought to light stories of women who were denied emergency medical care when they lost their pregnancies.

Harris, who has traveled and given speeches advocating for abortion rights, has frequently featured medical providers at her events to bolster the argument that the decision to end a pregnancy is a decision private and should not be played with local politicians.

First lady Jill Biden was also enlisted in the effort. On Tuesday, she hosted a group of women in the Blue Room of the White House and asked them to share their stories. One woman, Dr Austin Dennard, a doctor in Texas, said she was forced to travel out of state for an abortion when her fetus was diagnosed with anencephaly, a condition in which a baby is born without parts of the body. brain and skull.

Another, a Houston-based Democratic campaign worker, Elizabeth Weller, had gone into labor at 18 weeks and was told to go home until she developed an infection so severe that an ethics committee of the hospital authorized a doctor to terminate the pregnancy.

“Joe is doing everything he can do,” the first lady told the group.

Mini Timmaraju, president of the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, agreed that the Biden administration is “doing everything it can,” but she said the limits are real.

“We need to give them a pro-choice majority Congress,” she said. “That’s it. They’ve done everything they can so far, but without congressional support, they’re limited and we’re limited in what we can do.

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