President Joe Biden addresses a gathering of county commissioners in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, 2/15/22 (Screen Capture)
President Joe Biden on Friday called for Congress to pass laws protecting abortion rights and for voters to elect pro-rights candidates on “a sad day for the country” after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on abortion.
Biden pledged to fight for policies that protect abortion access, including interstate travel and access to federally approved medications. But he said he has limited power to restore the broad protections in place under the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade that the court overturned Friday.
Biden called on Congress and voters across the country to exercise their own will.
“This decision must not be the final word,” he said. “My administration will use all of its appropriate lawful powers, but Congress must act. With your vote, you can act. You can have the final word. This is not over.”
‘Roe is on the ballot’
The 6-3 decision Friday marked the first time the court repealed an existing right, and it imperiled those who need access to the procedure, Biden said in a roughly 10-minute speech at the White House.
“With Roe gone, let’s be very clear: The health and life of women in this nation are now at risk,” he said.
Biden urged voters to remember the decision in this fall’s elections, noting that the current Congress appears unwilling to approve abortion rights laws, though several Democrats said Friday they would renew their efforts at federal protections.
“This fall, Roe is on the ballot,” Biden said.
The ruling does not block patients from crossing state lines to seek an abortion or doctors from treating patients from other states. Biden pledged to use the executive branch “to defend that bedrock right.”
“If any state or local official, high or low, tries to interfere with a woman’s exercising her basic right to travel, I will do everything in my power to fight that deeply un-American attack.”
Access to medication
The administration will also seek to maintain access to medications and contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Some state leaders have said they will try to restrict access to medications like mifepristone, a drug the FDA approved in 2000 to end an early pregnancy and is commonly prescribed for miscarriages, Biden said.
Biden directed the Health and Human Services Department to protect access to medications, he said.
The decision’s consequences would start immediately, he said, due to several states’ so-called trigger laws to severely restrict abortion, explicitly written to take effect once Roe was overturned.
The ruling allows “extremist governors and state legislators” to enact abortion restrictions without exception and to criminalize abortion care, Biden said.
The court’s conservative majority showed “how extreme it is, how far removed it is from the majority of this country,” Biden said.
He highlighted a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas that also threatened court rulings protecting contraception access and same-sex marriage.
“Peaceful, peaceful, peaceful’
With the ruling coming weeks after a man with a gun was arrested outside Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s house and as the U.S. House examines the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol inspired by his predecessor, Biden urged voters unhappy with the ruling to “keep all protests peaceful. Peaceful, peaceful, peaceful.”
Biden closed the speech with an appeal to voters.
“It’s a sad day for the country, in my view, but it doesn’t mean the fight’s over,” he said. “Let me be very clear and unambiguous: The only way we can secure a woman’s right to choose, the balance that existed, is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade as federal law. No executive action from the White House can do that.
“And if Congress, as it appears, lacks the votes to do that now, voters need to make their voices heard. This fall, we must elect more senators and representatives who will codify a woman’s right to choose into federal law once again, elect more state leaders to protect this right at the local level.”
Biden would have more to say about the decision “in the weeks to come,” he said.
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