Washington: For weeks, White House officials have been huddling with state leaders, advocates, health care professionals and others to prepare for a future without Roe v. Wade. That future arrived on Friday, when the conservative majority on the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark decision that legalised abortion nationwide.
Now President Joe Biden’s plans will be tested in terms of politics and policy. He addressed the nation from the White House, terming it a “sad day for the court and the country”.
Biden decried the “extreme” court’s ruling, saying politicians should not be allowed to interfere with a decision that should be made between a woman and her doctor. He called the decision “wrong, extreme and out of touch”.
Biden and other Democrats hope to use outrage over the court decision to rally voters in November’s midterm elections.
Although nationwide legislation ensuring access to abortion appears out of reach, more Democratic victories at the state level could limit Republican efforts to ban the practice.
The White House has also been exploring options for Biden to take executive action to safeguard abortion rights, but his options are limited.
Lawrence Gostin, who runs the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health at Georgetown Law, said ahead of Friday’s ruling that he expected the Biden administration to be “to be nibbling around the edges, and is not going to do anything really profound”.
Gostin said he’s discussed a variety of options with administration officials but believes they are “gun shy” given the potential for legal challenges that could lead to more roadblocks from a US Supreme Court that’s currently dominated by conservatives.
Some of Gostin’s suggestions included having Medicaid cover the cost of travelling across state lines to end pregnancies, as well as expanding access to abortion medication that can be delivered by mail.
“States couldn’t pick and choose what cancer drug they would allow, and they shouldn’t be permitted to choose what options women have for medication abortions that are fully approved as safe and effective,” he said.
Alexandra LaManna, a White House spokeswoman, said earlier this week that the president “believes we should defend the right of all Americans to make their own decisions”, and she added that Republican policies “include abortion bans with no exceptions for rape or incest, and criminalising women who have an abortion and the physicians who perform them”.
During their preparations, White House officials have held a series of meetings with advocates, medical groups and faith leaders who are supportive of abortion access.
The Rev. John Dorhauer, the general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, drove from Cleveland to Washington, DC, to attend one meeting earlier this month. Another virtual meeting was held this week, featuring Vice President Kamala Harris.
“It was rather impressive to see the commitment the White House and the vice president’s office has had to gather advocates from around the country,” Dorhauer said.
However, there are also concerns that the administration is not ready.
Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, attended a recent virtual meeting with abortion providers and said she expects “a true health crisis”.
“I think that we should have been preparing for far longer than we have been,” McNicholas said. “Do I think that they recognise that this a problem? Yes. Do I think that they’re prepared in this moment? No.”