Biden says federal government will protect women seeking abortions across state lines

Politics

Abortion rights demonstrators march to the houses of US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on June 29, 2022.
Stefani Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Friday that the federal government will protect women seeking the abortion pill in states where it’s been banned as well as women who need to cross state lines to get the procedure.

“As I said last week: This is not over,” Biden said at a meeting with Democratic governors. “Last week, I announced two specific actions. First, that if extremist governors try to block a woman from traveling from her state that prohibits her from seeking medical help she needs, to a state that provides that care, the federal government will act to protect her bedrock right through the attorney general’s office.”

Still, Biden acknowledged that there aren’t enough Democrats in the Senate willing to suspend a procedural rule to allow Democrats to codify the Roe decision into federal law.

He urged Americans to vote in the midterm elections for candidates who support abortion access.

“The choice is clear: We either elect federal senators and representatives who will codify Roe or Republicans … who will try to ban abortions nationwide.”

Biden is meeting with the governors to discuss what the administration and states can do to ensure women have access to abortion following the Supreme Court’s ruling last week that overturned Roe v. Wade.

The president announced the meeting on Thursday while at a NATO summit in Madrid, where he told reporters that he and the governors will come up with ideas on how to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision in June to reverse the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established a constitutional right to an abortion.

Those who were expected to attend the meeting were:

  1. Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York
  2. Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina
  3. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico
  4. Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut
  5. Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado
  6. Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois
  7. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington
  8. Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon
  9. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California
  10. Gov. Daniel McKee of Rhode Island

The list of Democratic governors, who represent about one-third of the nation’s women, reflects the state-by-state divide on abortion access in the U.S. following the Supreme Court’s reversal. 

At least 13 states have laws on the books that immediately banned abortion or will do so soon. Abortion bans in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Alabama took effect as soon as Roe was overturned, but judges in Louisiana, Kentucky and Utah have blocked those laws from immediately taking effect.

Blue states, like New York and California, will continue to allow the termination of pregnancy.

New York Gov. Hochul, who spoke just after Biden, detailed pending legislation that would “enshrine” the procedure in the Empire State.

“We also are prepared to serve as a destination for women who’ll be looking to a place like New York … as a safe harbor. Even before the Supreme Court decision, I knew I had to beef up our opportunities for women to come from other states,” she said.

We decided “to mandate all insurance companies doing business in the state of New York now have to cover abortion, and I signed six bills related to protecting our providers,” Hochul added. “We’ll stop the extradition of any search for one of our providers or a woman who’s in our state, or wanted under criminal changes” related to abortion.

“That’s not happening in New York,” she said.

Echoing the belief held by many Democrats, Biden said Thursday the reversal “is a serious, serious problem the Supreme Court has thrust upon the United States.”

“I’m going to do everything in my power I legally can do in terms of protecting abortion, as well as pushing Congress and the public,” he said.

But the implications of the high court’s recent ruling are still being sorted on the state level, leaving federal agencies scrambling to navigate an evolving patchwork of laws and jurisdictions.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra acknowledged the complexity of the situation on Tuesday.

Becerra told reporters that federal law requires U.S. health agencies to grant abortion medication in exceptional circumstances, such as when the life of the woman is at risk or in cases of sexual assault.

But he declined to go into further detail on just how aggressive the federal government will be in fighting states’ abortion restrictions outside of those extreme cases, saying, “We are going to stay within the confines of the law.”

Biden said Thursday that he would support a Democrat-led effort to suspend a procedural rule in the Senate that would make it easier for lawmakers to codify the Roe v. Wade decision into federal law 

Democrats in the evenly divided chamber have long sought to pass legislation that would make the Roe decision federal law. While most bills require a simple majority to pass, Republicans have been able to block any attempts to codify Roe by invoking a filibuster, a procedural rule that requires 60 votes in the 50-50 split chamber to close debate and move on to a vote.

Suspending that rule, considered a political and legislative “nuclear option,” is risky for Democrats since Republicans could do the same if the GOP won back the Senate in the November midterm elections.

Biden’s support for suspension may not be enough anyway. While the filibuster could be changed with a simple majority vote, not all Senate Democrats are behind the idea of tossing out a way to check future Republican majorities.

Moderate Democrats Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, for example, have said they are against changes to the filibuster rules.

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