President Joe Biden on Wednesday lauded voters in Kansas for rejecting a constitutional measure that would have stripped abortion protections from the state’s constitution.
The amendment’s defeat on Tuesday was the first ballot-box reflection of voters’ beliefs on access to abortion since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June. The measure was handily rejected, by a margin of nearly 20 points as of Wednesday morning, in an election with an unusually high turnout for a midterm primary.
“In the opinion of the Dobbs case, the extreme majority of the Supreme Court wrote … ‘women are not without electoral or political power,’” Biden said on Wednesday, referring to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. “The court practically dared women in this country to go to the ballot box and restore the right to choose. ... In Kansas, they found out women and men did exercise their electoral political power with a record turnout.”
Biden made his remarks virtually at the first meeting of the interagency Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access, while he is dealing with a rebound case of Covid-19 and after again testing positive on Wednesday morning.
Vice President Kamala Harris, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Health Secretary Xavier Becerra, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough also attended the meeting.
The failed Kansas amendment comes as the Biden administration makes a move to protect pregnant people who travel for access to reproductive care. Biden signed an executive order at Wednesday’s meeting that would examine ways to protect pregnant people who have to travel out of state for an abortion if their state bans it.
The order directs Becerra to work with states to help people who need to travel out of state for reproductive healthcare. It also directs HHS to look into providing Medicare waivers for abortion procedures for pregnant people who have to travel out of state for the procedure.
“What we know is that there is a need for clarity around the rights of individuals and states in this moment,” Harris said. “We know that there are concerns about the kind of support that is available in terms of federal resources to the various states that are protecting the rights of women, and what our administration can do to support that.”
Speaking about the Tuesday election, Harris said: “The people of Kansas spoke yesterday, and they spoke loud and clear. They said this is not a partisan issue. The women of America should not be the subject of partisan debate or perspective.”
“The people of Kansas spoke, and so this is a matter of defense of basic principles of liberty and freedom in America,” Harris added. “And they spoke loudly in saying that they trust women to make decisions about their own lives and their bodies.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also addressed the Kansas vote during her daily briefing.
“We have seen a lot of momentum in the last 24 hours in our fight to restore Roe,” she said. “Americans in Kansas showed up to challenge views that would move the country backward, with fewer rights and politicians invading our most personal decisions, and they won.”
The state’s rejection of the amendment represented somewhat of an upset victory for abortion rights activists. Kansas is a state that voted for Donald Trump twice, and registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by nearly a 2-to-1 ratio.
“The president was very clear that in order to protect our rights or codify Roe, we need to make sure our voices are heard,” Jean-Pierre said. “That’s what you saw, you saw the power of the American people last night. That is incredibly important. It was not expected, what we saw last night.”
The administration and abortion rights activists also filed lawsuits in Florida and Idaho on Tuesday, challenging restrictive anti-abortion laws in the respective states.
Faith-based groups are suing in Florida, claiming the state’s 15-week abortion ban violates the constitutional rights of free speech, freedom of religion and the separation of state and church.
The Justice Department is leading the legal fight in Idaho, arguing that the state’s law violates federal law requiring doctors to provide pregnant people medically necessary treatment, including abortion.
There have also been a pair of victories for both sides of the argument this week in Michigan and Kentucky. On Monday, a Michigan judge blocked the state from enforcing a more than 90-year-old law on the books that would ban abortions. The same day, just a few states south, a Kentucky court reinstated a near-total ban on abortions.
“Ultimately, Congress must codify the protections of Roe as federal law,” Biden said Wednesday. “And if Congress fails to act, the people in this country need to elect senators and representatives who restore Roe and will protect the right to privacy, freedom and equality.”