With Roe v Wade a dead letter, Biden rallies governors to promote abortion access

Biden WH President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House, Sept. 9, 2021 | WhiteHouse.gov

In the wake of a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, President Joe Biden met with a group of Democratic governors on Friday to discuss how to increase access to abortion and to codify abortion rights at the federal level. 

Various governors backed pro-abortion amendments to state constitutions, state funding for abortion, and using federal facilities and supportive Native American lands as possible venues for providing abortions.

Biden himself called the 6-3 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision a “terrible,  extreme decision” and a “tragic reversal” of Roe v. Wade.  It would upend lives and impact “the health and safety of millions of women,” he said to the portion of a July 1 videoconference open to the press.

“I share the public outrage that this extremist court is committed to moving America backwards, with fewer rights, less autonomy and politicians invading the most personal decisions not only of women, but, you’ll find, if they expand on this decision, men as well.” said Biden. “This is not over.”

Biden now backs abortion despite being a professed Catholic. He is the second Catholic to become U.S. president.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed the Dobbs decision.

“America was founded on the truth that all men and women are created equal, with God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” conference president Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles and pro-life committee chair Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said in a joint statement. 

After the U.S. Supreme Court mandated legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, more than 60 million abortions took place. 

Nine Democratic governors joined President Biden for the videoconference: Kathy Hochul of New York, Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Jared Polis of Colorado, Ned Lamont of Massachusetts, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, Jay Inslee of Washington, Kate Brown of Oregon, and Dan McKee of Rhode Island.

Biden recounted his administration’s actions last week. The administration would seek to protect women traveling interstate to seek an abortion if state governments intervene, though no legislatures have passed such laws. The Biden administration will also intervene if FDA-approved medication is blocked at the state level. He also called for more funding for family planning, clarifying, “not for abortion but family planning.”

The president said he believes states which restrict abortion are preparing “unlawful actions.”

Though Biden backs what he says is a “codification” of the Roe v. Wade decision by Congress, he noted there are not enough votes to change the filibuster rules. Abortion backers need “two more votes” in the Senate, he said, claiming that Republicans will “try to ban abortions nationwide” if they take control of Congress in November.

Hochul told the conference that she is seeing “a lot of fear and anxiety” from women who support abortion.

“This is frightening time for women all across our nation, a lot of fear and anxiety out there,” she said. In her view, abortion access is “a matter of life and death” for women, saying that illegal abortions are “unsafe.”

The New York governor said she has expanded an extraordinary session of the state legislature from its focus on gun legislation. It will now add what Hochul characterized as “further protections for women in our state,” including an “equality agenda” that bars discrimination “on pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes.”

She also aims to “enshrine abortion rights in our constitution” and to establish New York as a “safe harbor” for abortion seekers.

Hochul called on Biden to use federal facilities to help provide abortions in states “hostile to abortion rights.” She suggested using veterans hospitals, military facilities, and other places under control of the federal government. 

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It is unclear whether such federal assistance would be legal. The Hyde Amendment bars most federal funding for abortion. 

Hochul also said the federal government should try to protect abortion seekers and doctors from “vigilante justice” and “private rights of action.” 

A Texas law allowed private lawsuits against those who perform or help procure illegal abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detectible. Lawmakers added this ability in part because local pro-abortion authorities might decline to enforce the law. The Texas law explicitly bars lawsuits against a pregnant woman seeking an abortion.  

Cooper, chair of the Democratic Governors Association, characterized governors as the “last line of defense” for legal abortion. He said Planned Parenthood officials in North Carolina have told him they expect about 10,000 women seeking abortions from out of state in the next year.

“We are not backing down. We are ready to do what is needed to protect women’s health,” he said, using a common euphemism for abortion.

Lujan Grisham of New Mexico cited the state legislature’s recent repeal of a law criminalizing abortion. The state has also increased funding for family planning and “abortion care services.” Her executive order will reject any cooperation with states investigating violations of their abortion laws, including investigations or extraditions. 

She suggested that Native American lands could be venues for abortion clinics. 

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“Our Indian Health Service clinics could be another effective vehicle” for providing abortions, she said, referring to a service under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The governor said that she has received outreach from “sovereign nations” which she thinks would be “very supportive and interested.”

President Biden said his administration is “looking at all alternatives, including the sovereign nation question.”

He also suggested Americans will back legal abortion, saying, “I think the American people are with us.”

Surveys about abortion give different answers depending on what is asked. Earlier this year, amid controversy over the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision draft leak, self-described pro-life survey respondents dipped to about 40%, according to Gallup. Other surveys indicate that while respondents say they support Roe v. Wade, they also support abortion restrictions which that precedent had barred, and even support returning questions about legal abortion to the state level. 

“I think people are going to be shocked when the first state that tries to arrest a woman for crossing a state line to get health services,” Biden said Friday, adding that such a move would show that ending Roe “affects all your basic rights.”

He told the governors that the Dobbs decision means “if you’ve got an 11-year-old child who’s a victim of incest who finds herself pregnant, she can’t get a choice. Her health can’t be protected if you’re raped and there’s no exceptions,” he said. He argued many people haven’t focused on these details beyond “the fundamental right of a women to be able to choose.”

The most recent proposal promising to codify Roe goes far beyond the original decision. The Women’s Health Protection Act, defeated in May by a 49-51 U.S. Senate vote, is an expansive abortion bill that would declare abortion a human right, undercut existing state pro-life laws, and force objecting doctors to perform abortions.

Biden had a record sceptical of legal abortion before becoming a strong backer of abortion causes.

Soon after Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, Biden said he thought the decision went “too far.” In his early career as a U.S. Senator from Delaware he voted for restrictions on federal funding for abortion. In a 1982 committee vote he supported a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade.

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