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In the wake of a likely Supreme Court ruling that would dramatically curtail abortion rights nationwide in the US, Biden administration officials are bracing for mass protests and increasing pressure on the White House to act, even as there remains little Biden can do to mitigate the effects of the expected ruling through executive action.
The imminent announcement — which is expected to occur within the next two weeks as the Supreme Court concludes its term for this term — will culminate months of contingency planning at the White House and lobbying efforts by abortion rights advocates, who want Biden to take immediate action.
In a videoconference with reproductive rights leaders on Wednesday, U.S. vice president Kamala Harris sounded the alarm. She said that when the decision on Roe v Wade is announced, “We must be ready to stand as a united front.” She described the myriad hurdles women may soon have to face when seeking an abortion, but she did not specify when, why or in what detail the administration is prepared to act when a decision is reached.
Today, @VP Harris will convene State Attorneys General to discuss their efforts protecting access to reproductive health care, amplifying actions they are taking as models for other states.https://t.co/Fs4WyC36Tc
— Rachel Palermo (@RachelPalermo46) June 23, 2022
People familiar with the talks say that behind the scenes, the steps the President has in mind include eliminating obstacles to accessing medication abortion as well as challenging state laws that criminalize women traveling outside of their home states for an abortion.
Privacy experts have expressed concern to Harris about how law enforcement could allegedly use period tracking apps to monitor for abortions and that those who undergo in vitro fertilization could have a difficult time destroying their embryos. Several groups representing communities of color and undocumented immigrants have raised concerns to the White House in regards to women in these groups being able to access abortion across state lines. As such, a number of state legislators have called on the federal government to allocate more resources to deal with what they believe to be a looming crisis.
“We’re exploring every option to respond to the upcoming decision … and to protect access to reproductive health care, including abortion,” White House Gender Policy Council Chair Jennifer Klein told Wednesday’s virtual meeting.
As it stands, however, with a federal law prohibiting taxpayer funds from going toward abortion in the vast majority of cases, and a rash of state bans that will almost certainly come into effect as soon as the Supreme Court delivers its ruling, Biden has little that he can do that would substantially restore the right to terminate pregnancy in America. Additionally, his calls for Congress to codify the right to abortion lack enough support in the Senate to pass.
Several abortion advocates and lawmakers have become increasingly anxious as a result of this situation as the President has, at various points throughout his long career, resisted fully adopting abortion rights. Additionally, advocates for a woman’s right to choose claim that Biden rarely uses the term “abortion” itself, an omission his aides downplay but that proponents believe is nevertheless symbolic.
“It’s time for this President — past time for this President and this administration — to name what’s happening as a moral failing in this country and as a public health and human rights crisis. It’s beyond the point of playing politics. It’s time to say the word abortion out loud,” said Michaela Lara Cadena, a representative from New Mexico who was among six state lawmakers who called senior White House officials to discuss reproductive rights last week.
New Mexico, which does not have any major types of abortion restriction, could see an influx of patients from neighboring states like Texas should the right to abortion be repealed nationally. In her appeal to the White House, Cadena urged them to be prepared to assist women traveling to seek abortions in states like hers, looking for clinics.
“It’s going to be a stretch for us to keep our doors and our clinics open for people coming from across the country. We are ready and our values are there, but it will be a stretch and to be real, this is decades in the making,” she said.
As the Supreme Court nears the end of its term, the White House has been reluctant to say what executive action the President is considering. Biden himself avoided details when he told Jimmy Kimmel this month that he was considering steps that might be taken in the event of Roe v Wade being overturned by the Supreme Court.
“There’s some executive orders I could employ, we believe. We’re looking at that right now,” he said in early June.
White House spokeswoman Alexandra LaManna said that Biden’s administration is exploring all options following the Supreme Court’s decision, though she declined to name specific measures the President may take.
“The contrast is stark between the President — who believes we should defend the right of all Americans to make their own decisions — and the radical MAGA policies proposed by Republican officials, which include abortion bans with no exceptions for rape or incest, and criminalizing women who have an abortion and the physicians who perform them,” LaManna said. “And dismantling reproductive freedom is just the first step. Overturning Roe opens the door to further imposing government into people’s lives and threatening rights like access to contraception and marriage equality.”