Biden, under growing pressure, signs executive order on abortion
President Biden signed an executive order aimed at protecting women’s reproductive rights in response to pressure from Democrats after the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade.
President Biden signed an executive order Friday aimed at protecting women’s reproductive rights, a response to rising pressure from within his party to address last month’s Supreme Court ruling revoking federal protections for abortion with greater urgency and conviction — and a new attempt to galvanize voters around the issue.
“We cannot allow an out-of-control Supreme Court, working in conjunction with extremist elements of the Republican Party, to take away freedoms and our personal autonomy,” Biden said in a speech from the White House. “The choice we face as a nation is between the mainstream and the extreme, between moving forward and moving backwards, between allowing politicians to enter the most personal parts of our lives and protecting the right of privacy.
“This is a moment — the moment — a moment to restore the rights that have been taken away from us and the moment to protect our nation from an extremist agenda that is antithetical to everything we believe as Americans.”
The president’s modest executive order does little to blunt the effect of the Supreme Court’s June 24 ruling, which leaves states free to ban abortion procedures outright, as nearly a dozen have already done. Fully restoring abortion rights, Biden made clear, is out of his hands — but very much in the hands of voters this fall.
“I know it’s frustrating,” he said, explaining that the only response that would override the court’s ruling — codifying abortion protections in federal law — must come from Congress. But Biden, while giving voice to his party’s frustration, refused to sugarcoat the political reality, conceding that Democrats don’t have the votes to act now. “We need two additional pro-choice senators and a pro-choice House to codify Roe as federal law,” Biden said. “Your vote can make that a reality.”
Framing the court’s decision as a challenge to America’s women, he expressed confidence that they would rise to it by voting in droves in November’s midterm elections. A wave of voters galvanized by a desire to restore abortion rights might be Democrats’ best and only shot at overcoming the electorate’s frustrations over inflation and inaction on a number of campaign priorities.
“Women are not without electoral or political power,” he said. “You ... can determine the outcome of this issue.”
The order, which he signed with Vice President Kamala Harris, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Deputy Atty. Gen. Lisa Monaco looking on, aims to preserve access to Food and Drug Administration-approved abortion medications such as mifepristone and misoprostol, and to protect patient privacy rights and access to contraceptives, including intrauterine devices.
It also orders Becerra to submit a report within 30 days on how his department can increase public outreach to those seeking to access the drugs and contraceptive devices outlined in Biden’s executive order. And it calls for Health and Human Services to recruit pro bono lawyers to represent women in future court cases.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has called on Biden to do more, tweeted that the White House should use “every tool possible to address this emergency.”
In a statement, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Mini Timmaraju called the move “an important first step in restoring the rights taken from millions of Americans by the Supreme Court,” expressing a determination to work with the White House “to make good on its commitment to championing reproductive freedom.”
Nancy Northup, president and chief executive at the Center for Reproductive Rights, expressed support for Biden’s order but called on him to do more, stating that his directive “should include HHS immediately declaring a public health emergency and using the emergency powers of the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) to protect access to abortion for as many people as possible.”
It’s unclear if Biden’s speech and the order will do much to chip away at the perceptions of many Democrats and activists who have decried the president’s response as tepid to an issue of major concern to the party’s base voters.
Biden spoke Friday from the Roosevelt Room and relied on a teleprompter, reading in a measured tone with few outward displays of emotion.
He began his remarks by blasting the ruling overturning Roe vs. Wade as “terrible, extreme and I think so totally wrong-headed,” a decision not about the law but, he said, “an exercise in pure political power.”
As he spoke about the executive order, he expressed more visible outrage about the ruling’s effect, which could force young girls to bear their rapist’s child and deny even married couples access to contraception.
“What century are they in?” he asked of the court’s five conservatives who signed onto the majority opinion.
It was the second time he has formally addressed abortion rights from the White House. On June 24, just hours after the ruling was issued, he condemned the decision but stressed Congress had the power to fully protect abortion access.
Many Democrats, outraged by the ruling and frustrated over their party’s inability to muster a response despite controlling the White House and Congress, publicly complained about the apparent lack of urgency or emotion from the president, whose plodding responses have followed more impassioned outcries from party activists and several prominent Democratic governors, including California’s Gavin Newsom.
Last week, in response to the criticism, Biden indicated that he supported the Senate making an exception to the 60-vote filibuster requirement in order to codify abortion protections in federal law, something activists have been clamoring for even though Democrats don’t currently have the 50 votes needed to do so.
Many progressives in Congress have been calling for executive action, as lawmakers wondered why the White House was caught so flat-footed when the ruling came down, especially given that a draft of the opinion overturning Roe had leaked in early May. Two of the most popular, Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), called for the administration to establish abortion clinics on federal land, a move the White House has ruled out.
“A lot of Democrats’ desire to have a president who will be much more aggressive is clashing now with both the real world limits on Biden’s power and his institutionalist commitments,” said Matt Dallek, a historian at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.
Biden is “butting up against both the real limits of executive power, the fact that he’s had roughly around 40% approval with really sky-high inflation and rising interest rates, and an economy that does not give him a whole lot of political capital or make him feel particularly emboldened,” Dallek said.
News Analysis: Pressure builds on Biden to turn to executive action despite its limits and risks
With midterms looming and a conservative high court imposing significant changes, pressure builds on Biden to turn to executive action. But there are limits to such power.
The more aggressive reactions from Newsom and others have sparked chatter in Washington about whether any Democratic governors could be laying the groundwork to challenge Biden, who is 79, for the party’s nomination in 2024. What’s more likely is that the next generation of party leaders is offering the president a messaging template to follow.
“I want to see Joe Biden as mad as every woman who was marching on the streets [after the Roe ruling],” said Amanda Litman, a progressive organizer who supports first-time candidates seeking elected office. “What are you so afraid about? They aren’t responding with the kind of rage we feel.”
As he often does, Biden seized on the day’s news to broaden his speech’s focus, beginning his remarks by touting the strong jobs report showing 372,000 new jobs were added to the economy in June while the unemployment rate held steady at 3.6%.
“Our private sector has now recovered all the jobs lost during the pandemic,” he said, noting that the workforce is larger today than it ever was under President Trump while acknowledging the day-to-day effects of inflation.
“I know times are tough, prices are too high, families are facing the rising cost of living,” he said. “But today’s economic news confirms the fact that my economic plan is moving this country in a better direction.”
Times staff writers Courtney Subramanian and Freddy Brewster contributed to this report.
The surprisingly strong gain will likely spur the Federal Reserve to keep sharply raising interest rates to cool the economy and slow price increases.
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