President Joe Biden says he’s looking at ways to shore up abortion rights if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade in the coming weeks, but the White House has not given specifics and legal experts say there’s little he can do to stop states that want to outlaw the procedure.
Biden said on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Wednesday night that his team is looking at possible executive orders, but avoided specifics. Echoing Democratic congressional leaders, who have tried unsuccessfully to codify Roe’s protections and override state bans, Biden largely focused his remarks on electing more abortion-rights supporters to Congress in the November midterms.
“It’s clear that if, in fact, the decision comes down the way it does and these states impose the limitations they’re talking about, it’s going to cause a mini revolution and they’re going to vote a lot of these folks out of office,” the president predicted.
Yet many Democratic officials and abortion-rights activists fear the party is unlikely to pick up enough seats in the midterms to pass comprehensive abortion-rights legislation. And even if it can, many fear that waiting until a new Congress is seated in January will be too late to prevent the harm they expect if tens of millions of people lose access to abortion.
While Biden has few options to preserve abortion access in states determined to restrict it, there are actions his administration can take to bolster reproductive health rights, including making it easier to obtain abortion medication, protecting patient privacy and making sure more people can afford and access contraception, according to lawmakers and abortion-rights groups.
Earlier this week, 25 senators wrote to Biden pleading with him to drop the remaining FDA restrictions on abortion pills, which include a requirement that any pharmacy that distributes the drug obtain a special license. They also called for travel vouchers and other financial support to people crossing state lines for the procedure, cracking down on the states that are trying to drop Planned Parenthood from their Medicaid programs, ramping up protections around digital health data that could be used to prosecute people who have abortions, and exploring whether abortions could be offered on federally owned properties even in states that implement bans. Democrats in Congress are also lobbying the Pentagon to allow service members who are stationed in states likely to ban abortion to take leave to travel for the procedure.
Abortion-rights advocates have also called on the Biden administration to issue tougher HIPAA guidance to prevent medical workers from reporting people they suspect of having abortions to law enforcement — something that’s already happening in Texas and other states. They also want stricter enforcement of widespread violations of Obamacare’s contraception mandate — one of several steps they’re calling for that could help prevent unwanted pregnancies.
White House spokesperson Alexandra LaManna told POLITICO in a statement that the administration is looking at “every possible option” and “believes we should defend the right of all Americans to make their own decisions.”
The White House has repeatedly said it is waiting for a Supreme Court ruling, which could happen as early as next week, before the administration rolls out any response — angering Democrats at both the state and federal levels who want to see the Biden take a stronger and more proactive stand.
“We knew this was coming and, nationally, didn't have a plan,” fumed Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) in an interview with POLITICO. “Part of my frustration is with, frankly, some of my own colleagues and peers. The other side for 50 years has had a legal strategy — where is our 50-year strategy? As someone who comes from a CIA and Pentagon background, I'm frankly furious that there wasn't more D-Day, decision day, planning.”
Slotkin chalks up the lack of planning among Democrats and progressive activist groups to a “failure of imagination” and a misguided assumption that Roe, which has held for nearly 50 years, was untouchable.
“Where was the legislation to undergird Roe back when we had a large majority in the Senate and a decent majority in the House?” she asked. “There's a lot of frustration, and now we need to turn that frustration into a damn plan.”