Friday, Dec 02, 2022

Roe v Wade: Biden calls for federal law to restore abortion rights

Roe v Wade: Biden calls for federal law to restore abortion rights

President Joe Biden has said a federal law would be the "fastest way" to restore abortion rights as he signed an order to safeguard abortion access.

He called a recent Supreme Court abortion ruling, which ended the nationwide right to the procedure, "an exercise in raw political power".

It paved the way for individual US states to decide if and how to allow abortions.

Mr Biden has faced pressure to respond to the ruling with bolder action.

The presidential order, signed on Friday, is expected to have a limited impact - to mitigate some of the restrictions but not fully restore abortion rights.

Mr Biden has maintained that his ability to institute abortion rights is limited without action from the US Congress.

"The fastest route to restore Roe is to pass a national law codifying Roe," Mr Biden said, referring to the landmark 1973 ruling that guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion.

In his remarks, he emphasised this was an issue for the coming midterm elections and urged people to vote in Democratic majorities as the fastest way to bring Roe V Wade back, and said that US voters had a choice between "the mainstream or the extreme".

He also pointed to a recent news report that a 10-year-old girl in Ohio was forced to travel to a neighbouring state to have an abortion after she was sexually abused.

"Imagine being a little girl. Just imagine being a little girl, 10 years old. Does anyone believe that?" he said.

Mr Biden's new executive order beefs up protection against potential penalties that women seeking abortion may face if they travel across state lines for the procedure, and protects access to contraception.

It includes measures to safeguard access to abortion medication.

Protection of privacy

The order also takes additional steps to protect patient privacy, including by addressing the transfer and sales of sensitive health-related data, combatting digital surveillance related to reproductive health care services.

A White House official warned that women should be wary of apps that track their menstrual periods after the rollback of federal abortion rights.

"I think people should be really careful about that," Jen Klein, the director of the White House's Gender Policy Council said Friday, when asked whether the administration recommended that women delete such apps.

The Department of Health and Human Services has published "practical instructions on how to delete certain apps that are on your phone" she added.

Mr Biden's executive order directs Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to submit a report within 30 days on those efforts.

He is also directing the attorney general and White House counsel to convene private volunteer attorneys and public interest organisations to encourage legal representation for those seeking or offering reproductive health services.

Since the Supreme Court abortion ruling nearly two weeks ago, at least nine states have instituted a near-total ban on the procedure, with the only exception being danger to the life of the mother.

Other states are now scrambling to protect abortion access amid legal challenges, while abortion clinics are struggling to navigate patchworks of new laws.

Pressure on Biden

Ever since the Supreme Court handed down its decision discarding Roe v Wade, abortion rights activists have been calling on Joe Biden to do more.

The US president's initial reaction, an expression of sadness at the ruling and a call to vote Democratic in November's midterm elections, was viewed by many as simply inadequate.

Whispers that Mr Biden was not up to the moment, either because of advancing age or political disposition, have grown to the point that they couldn't be ignored by the White House.

Presidential power on abortion is limited, however, particularly given the long-time congressional provisions that prohibit the federal government from spending funds to support the procedure - provisions that Mr Biden himself once backed.

That leaves the president in a bind.

Opinion polling indicates that the public widely support maintaining the legality of abortion, even in states that have bans already on the books. But any sweeping measures Mr Biden may take will face quick legal challenge, and the support for presidential action - from the American people at large, if not from his restive liberal base - may diminish if the public views the White House as exceeding its powers.

Watch: Biden presents executive order to protect abortion access and urges people to vote for change


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