(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden says he is launching a “whole-of-government effort” in response to the Supreme Court allowing the nation’s most restrictive abortion law to take effect in Texas, directing his Gender Policy Council and the White House legal team to tap federal agencies to ensure women maintain their constitutional right to an abortion.
“While the Chief Justice was clear to stress that the action by the Supreme Court is not a final ruling on the future of Roe, the impact of last night’s decision will be immediate and requires an immediate response,” Biden said in a statement on Thursday.
“Hence, I am directing that Council and the Office of the White House Counsel to launch a whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision, looking specifically to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to see what steps the Federal Government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe, and what legal tools we have to insulate women and providers from the impact of Texas’ bizarre scheme of outsourced enforcement to private parties,” the statement said.
Attorney General Merrick Garland also said in a statement on Thursday that the Justice Department is “deeply concerned” about the Texas law, known as SB 8, and is “evaluating all options to protect the constitutional rights of women, including access to an abortion.”
The Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote Wednesday night formally rejected a request by Texas abortion providers to block the state’s severe new law restricting the procedure while legal challenges continue. Most abortions in Texas are now illegal after six weeks of pregnancy, and private citizens — who do not have to be Texas residents — are encouraged to sue a person they believe is providing an abortion outside the new parameters or assisting a woman in getting one, whether they are a rape counselor or an Uber driver taking a woman to a clinic.
Biden said the SCOTUS decision “unleashes constitutional chaos and empowers self-anointed enforcers to have devastating impacts” and that the law will now “significantly impair women’s access to the health care they need, particularly for communities of color and individuals with low incomes.”
“This law is so extreme it does not even allow for exceptions in the case of rape or incest. And it not only empowers complete strangers to inject themselves into the most private of decisions made by a woman—it actually incentivizes them to do so with the prospect of $10,000 if they win their case,” Biden’s statement said. “For the majority to do this without a hearing, without the benefit of an opinion from a court below, and without due consideration of the issues, insults the rule of law and the rights of all Americans to seek redress from our courts.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing on Wednesday that the president would continue to call for the “codification of Roe” through Congress, but Biden’s statement did not make mention of that call.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi echoed Biden’s anger on Thursday, calling the court’s decision “cowardly” and vowing to bring up the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade, to a vote.
“The Supreme Court’s cowardly, dark-of-night decision to uphold a flagrantly unconstitutional assault on women’s rights and health is staggering,” she said in a statement. “Upon our return, the House will bring up Congresswoman Judy Chu’s Women’s Health Protection Act to enshrine into law reproductive health care for all women across America.”
The House is scheduled to return from recess on Sept. 20., but that vote will be symbolic given that Democrats don’t have 60 votes to pass the bill in the Senate or 51 votes to change Senate rules to allow its passage over GOP opposition.
The Supreme Court’s decision has prompted progressive Democrats to renew their calls for changes to the Senate’s filibuster rules — and legislation that would expand the number of seats on the Supreme Court.
“We need to restore balance to the court after Donald Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell blatantly stole the seats of Justice Scalise and Justice Ginsburg,” Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement.
Advocates are also concerned about other states implementing laws similar to the one in Texas.
Nancy Northrop, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told CNN on Wednesday she expects the Supreme Court decision will embolden states “to completely ignore Roe V. Wade.”
While the majority of state legislatures are not currently in session, about 70 bills attempting to ban all or most abortions were introduced this year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks state-level sexual and reproductive health bills. Eight of those bills were enacted, including two in Texas (one of which was SB 8), as well as six others in Arkansas, Idaho, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
Seven other laws either haven’t gone into effect yet, including several that would ban abortions only if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, or have been temporarily blocked by the courts.
Florida, for example, is not in session, but at least one state representative, congressional candidate Anthony Sabatini, has promised to introduce the “exact same” bill as Texas’ in the Sunshine State.
He told ABC News on Thursday the bill is being drafted. Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson told WFLA News that the Florida legislature would take up a bill similar to the Texas law in the next session.
More than six in 10 Americans say they agree with the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decisions establishing a woman’s right to an abortion, according to a national Quinnipiac poll from May, a view that has remained consistent in the nearly two decades Quinnipiac has polled on this issue, it said. In 2003, Americans agreed with the Roe decision 62-35%.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Women’s Health which operates four clinics in Texas, told ABC News her team is not giving up the fight to ensure women in Texas have access to reproductive health care.
“At this moment we are in an unprecedented and complicated situation,” she said, “but we are sure of one thing — our vales, our commitment and what we stand for has not changed.”
ABC News’ Devin Dwyer, Benjamin Siegel, Alex Mallin, Quinn Scanlan and Oren Oppenheim contributed to this report.
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