US president Joe Biden on Friday announced a range of measures designed to maintain access to abortion and urged women to vote in November’s midterm elections, as his administration looks to limit the fallout of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs Wade.
Biden spoke from the White House about how he intends to make sure Americans can still get abortions even after the country’s highest court struck down the decades-long precedent that guaranteed a right to an abortion, paving the way for multiple states to ban or restrict the procedure.
He has not backed more drastic steps being proposed by progressive activists, such as increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court in an effort to rebalance it away from the conservative majority.
The president on Friday said Roe’s fall “wasn’t a constitutional judgment. It was an exercise in raw political power”.
Biden added: “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.”
Vice-president Kamala Harris, who was present at the event, will later on Friday meet state legislative leaders who are advocating for abortion rights in states where tighter restrictions are looming.
Biden has pledged to push for a national law protecting abortion rights, but it is unclear whether he has the votes in Congress to pass such a bill.
On Friday, he urged Americans to vote in November’s midterm elections, where Democrats are expected to suffer significant defeats, to help boost the number of pro-choice members of Congress in order to have sufficient backing to codify Roe into federal law.
“This is the fastest route available [to restore Roe],” Biden said. “The court now practically dares the women of America to go to the ballot box and restore the very rights they’ve just taken away.”
Passing a federal law would require sidestepping the Senate filibuster, which usually requires a supermajority of 60 votes to overcome.
Biden, who has in the past been reluctant to overhaul Senate rules to pass legislation along party lines, said he would back over-ruling the filibuster in this case. Doing so would still require the votes of Democratic senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have previously opposed any such attempt.
Friday’s order, which will largely have to be carried out by Xavier Becerra, the health secretary, includes expanding access to abortion pills, demand for which has jumped since the ruling last month. Some Republican states have limited their use by requiring a doctor to be present when they are taken, which prohibits them being prescribed via telehealth.
Biden also said his administration would convene panels of volunteer lawyers to help fight legal cases on behalf of people seeking reproductive healthcare. The administration has previously threatened to sue any state that attempts to block a woman travelling across their borders to get an abortion.
He has asked the Federal Trade Commission to look at ways to protect the privacy of people who research abortion services online, amid concerns that online data could be used against abortion seekers in any prosecution.
Many in the Democratic party want Biden to be more combative. Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, this week asked the administration for clarity on whether people in her state would be allowed to bring abortion pills over the border from Canada.
Polls suggest the Supreme Court’s decision has galvanised Democrats ahead of November’s midterms. “It is my hope and strong belief that women will in fact turn out in record numbers to reclaim the rights that have been taken from them by the court,” Biden said on Friday.