Minutes after the Supreme Court voted to quash Roe v. Wade last summer, a group of aides from the West Wing rushed to the Oval Office to inform President Biden of the decision. As they drafted a speech, Biden was the first person in the room to say what his administration’s rallying cry has been since.
“He said at the time, ‘The only thing that will really restore rights that have just been taken away is passing federal legislation,’” Jen Klein, director of the White House Council on Gender Policy, recalled in an interview.
But if the prospect of codifying Roe’s protections in Congress seemed like a long shot a year ago, it’s almost impossible to imagine now, with a far-right rising bloc in the House and a slim Democratic majority in the Senate.
Instead, since the battle over abortion rights is taking place squarely in individual states, Biden administration officials are working with a limited set of tools, including executive orders and the galvanizing power of the presidency, to argue that Republicans running in next year’s elections would place even more restrictions on abortion.
“Make no mistake, this election is about ballot freedom,” Biden said Friday at a Democratic National Committee event, where he rallied support from various pro-abortion rights groups.
On Saturday, Vice President Kamala Harris will deliver a speech in North Carolina to mark the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the constitutional right to abortion after nearly 50 years.
Ms Klein, who recalled updating news websites on the day the decision was made last June, said she was “shocked but not surprised” by the court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson.
He added that “the efforts to really go to extreme measures do not represent the majority view of where the people are on this.”
The White House has argued that Biden is reaching the legal limits of his powers through executive action. 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.
Mr. Biden previously issued a memo to protect access to abortion medications at pharmacies and took steps to protect patients who cross state lines to seek care. The Department of Justice has taken legal action against some states that restrict abortion. And the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the abortion pill mifepristone was quickly challenged in court. (In April, the Supreme Court issued an order to preserve access to the pill while judges reviewed case law.)
Just as the White House has clarified its message on abortion rights, framing the fight as one in support of privacy, security and civil rights, so has the president. Mr. Biden, a Catholic who attends Mass almost every week, has fought throughout his career to defend abortion rights. Since Roe was struck down, he’s become more outspoken.
“I think he’s someone who really has his own personal views, and he’s also made it pretty clear that Roe v. Wade made the right choice,” Ms. Klein said.
Recent polls show that most Americans may feel the same way. A USA Today/Suffolk University poll conducted this week found that one in four Americans said that restrictive abortion bans enacted at the state level have made them more supportive of abortion rights. Another survey, conducted by PBS NewsHour, NPR and Maristsaid that 61 percent of American adults support abortion rights.
Some activists suspect that some Republican presidential candidates are paying attention to the polls, even as Mike Pence, the former vice president and presidential candidate, said Friday he would support a 15-week national ban on the procedure. Other candidates, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have supported more restrictive bans, including six weeks one signed in your state.
“It was the right thing to do,” DeSantis said Friday of signing the bill.
The top favorite of the Republican Party, former President Donald J. Trump, has not gone as far as Pence or DeSantis. He takes credit for naming the Supreme Court justices who quashed Roe v. Wade, but has so far resisted adopting a federal ban.
As the Republican camp rallies, the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee will make abortion a major focus of the president’s re-election effort. This week, the Biden campaign launched an ad campaign focused on the battleground states, including funding billboards in Times Square that will highlight Republican efforts to restrict abortion access.
The Democratic National Committee is also encouraging local Democrats to pressure Republicans to specify where they stand on national bans, believing it will help contrast Biden’s approach with extremist positions, according to a DNC official.
Inside the White House, Klein said officials are tracking court cases in individual states and bringing together abortion rights activists to compare notes on which policies have been successful.
Still, activists fear court victories could be short-lived and fail to remove the threat of a broader abortion ban as legislation would.
In recent months, administration officials have regularly highlighted the stories of women who have been denied emergency medical care when they suffered pregnancy loss.
Ms. Harris, who has traveled extensively and made speeches in defense of abortion rights, has frequently featured health care providers at her events to reinforce the argument that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is a private one and should not be tinkering with it by local authorities. politicians
Jill Biden, the first lady, has 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 of the women, 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 that causes a baby to be born without parts of the brain. and skull.
Another, a Houston-based Democratic campaign worker named Elizabeth Weller, went into labor at 18 weeks and was told to go home until she developed an infection so severe that a hospital ethics panel allowed a doctor terminated the pregnancy.
“Joe is doing everything he can do,” the first lady told the group.
Mini Timmaraju, president of abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, agreed that the Biden administration is “doing everything it can,” but said the limitations are real.
“We have to give them a majority Congress in favor of the right to decide,” he said. “That’s it. They’ve done everything they can up to that point, but without Congressional support, they’re limited, and we’re limited in what we can do.”