Monday, November 29

Biden launches federal effort in response to Texas abortion law

(CNN) — A new Texas law effectively outlawing most abortions prompted President Joe Biden on Wednesday to use a word that he had completely avoided as president: “Abortion.”

The absence of a word in Biden’s comments and public statements has frustrated activists, who say it reflects an issue that has been left off the priority list, even as women’s right to abortion is threatened in Midwestern and southern states of the country.

Wednesday night the Supreme Court formally denied the petition from Texas abortion providers to freeze state law, which means it will remain in force for now. Abortion providers in the state have already started turning patients away, not knowing if they are being exposed to the law.

In a statement Thursday morning, Biden used the word again, harshly criticizing the Texas law as an “unprecedented assault on the constitutional rights of women.”

In much stronger language than he had used a day earlier, Biden called the novel enforcement structure, which allows private citizens to bring civil lawsuits against anyone helping a pregnant person seeking an abortion, as a “strange scheme” with the potential to unleash “unconstitutional mayhem.”

“Complete strangers will now have the power to intrude on the most private and personal health decisions that women face,” she wrote.

Biden said he was launching a “whole government” effort to respond to the law, tasking the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Justice “to see what action the government can take. Federal to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions. ” Biden reported that the effort would be led from the White House.

With Texas law banning abortions after six weeks’ gestation, Biden faces pressure to defend abortion rights more aggressively. It’s an issue the president has changed on throughout his long career, including as a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, when he changed his stance on a measure that allowed federal funds to pay for abortion.

In his two statements on Texas law, Biden has vowed to find a way to protect a woman’s right to decide whether to have an abortion. However, the pathways to doing so remain unclear, and so far the White House has been vague about the specific actions they might take.

When asked by reporters Wednesday what options Biden had available to him, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president would pressure Congress to codify Roe vs. Wade as law.

“That is a specific course of action that can be taken to help protect against these types of lawsuits in the future,” he said.

The prospect of Congress enshrining the right to abortion in law remains a long shot; Doing so would require 60 votes in the Senate to overcome certain Republican filibuster, and even approval in the House of Representatives is unclear, given the very narrow majority of Democrats.

Biden had already faced calls to support changes to the political obstructionism rules for issues like the right to vote, but has paused in supporting ditching the tactics altogether. In 2018, Democrats successfully used filibuster to avoid a law banning abortion after 20 weeks when Republicans controlled the House, Senate, and White House, a reminder of how rule changes could haunt them in the future if the Republican Party becomes a majority again.

Lucy Ceballos: Texas Anti-Abortion Law Is Inhumane 0:48

Since taking office, Biden has taken some steps to reverse the restrictive abortion rules of the Trump era, including the “Mexico City Policy” that prohibits US funding of international organizations that perform abortions.

It also tasked the Department of Health and Human Services with replacing a Trump-era rule that prohibited certain federally funded health care providers from referring patients for abortions, a move long demanded by advocacy groups. right to abortion.

However, the issue has been far from being a point on his administration’s agenda. As a senator, Biden had been among the most moderate Democrats on abortion, including supporting the Hyde Amendment that prohibited federal funding of abortion.

In 2019, while competing for the Democratic presidential nomination, Biden said he had changed his mind, although he stated that there was “no apology for my latest stance.” Instead, he said he had reversed his position because the majority Republican-led states had enacted stricter new abortion laws.

Biden, who is Catholic, has also faced criticism from conservative US bishops, who earlier this year tried to enact rules denying communion to public figures who supported abortion rights.

Biden has shrugged off those attempts, calling them a “private affair” that he did not believe would gain traction.

For Biden and his party, the political environment has been deteriorating for weeks. The resurgence of coronavirus infections, growing fears of inflation, and catastrophic images from Afghanistan have dented the President’s public position and shined the Republican prospects of regaining control of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections.

Texas’ restrictive abortion law, and the Supreme Court’s willingness to let it go into effect, could alter the political equation in favor of Democrats, according to some operators.

“Democrats will use this to revive their disillusioned base,” said Republican pollster Glen Bolger.

“It’s a political disaster but a political bonanza,” observed Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster who advises party leaders in Congress. “Democrats will finally realize that the right to choose is not a settled issue, but is really at stake in this election. They will be fired up, and ready to vote, and eager to give their time and money.”

Now that the issue is back in the limelight with the new Texas law, Biden faces new calls for him to endorse an expansion of the Supreme Court after it allowed the new restrictive Texas abortion law to take effect. As a candidate, Biden refrained from raising the issue and instead created a commission of experts to weigh that and other ideas to reform the Supreme Court.

The group has met three times since its inception in April, once in May, once in June, and once in July. The meetings have been held virtually, and most members and witnesses have read prepared testimonies. All of them are available on the White House website.

More meetings are scheduled for this fall, and the report is due by November 15, 180 days after the group’s first public meeting.

Officials say the report will not contain recommendations for or against expanding the court or other possible changes. Instead, it will analyze various arguments for and against the reform of the Supreme Court. Officials say it could serve as the basis for debate among lawmakers.

Apart from expanding the court, the panel has heard arguments on the limitation of the court’s power of judicial review; modifying the way the court decides which cases to hear; and has debated the idea of ​​limiting the terms of judges.

The panel has also dealt with the so-called “shadow list”, which allows the court to make decisions without arguments or full public reports, a practice that has come under new scrutiny following the use of the tactic in the case. from Texas.

In his statement Thursday, Biden also criticized the court for secretly deciding something with major ramifications.

“That the majority do this without a hearing, without the benefit of a lower court opinion, and without due consideration of the issues, insults the rule of law and the rights of all Americans to seek redress in our courts,” Biden wrote. “Rather than use its supreme authority to ensure justice can be fairly sought, our nation’s highest Court will allow millions of Texas women in need of critical reproductive care to suffer as the courts scrutinize the procedural complexities.”

The Supreme Court commission, led by former White House adviser Bob Bauer, was created in April and is made up of 36 members from across the ideological spectrum. Most are professors from elite law schools.

CNN’s John Harwood contributed to this report.

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