In response to President Joe Biden’s claim that his administration is “look[ing] at” whether or not to declare a public health emergency over abortion rights, progressive lawmakers are urging him to follow through on the declaration that could free up resources to fight abortion bans.
Biden told reporters in Delaware on Sunday that the declaration is “something I’m asking the medical people in the administration to look at whether I have the authority to do that and what impact that would have.” He said that the strongest action that Democrats could take is to pass a bill that recently failed in the Senate that would codify Roe v. Wade.
The president offered words of encouragement for pro-abortion protesters who have risen up in droves — including outside of the White House over the weekend — in response to the far right Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe. “Keep protesting. Keep making your point. It’s critically important,” he said.
Responding to news that Biden is considering the declaration, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts) wrote, “Good. Now declare it,” on Twitter.
“Every minute we wait, we risk losing someone we love,” said Rep. Cori Bush (D-Missouri). SCOTUS’ decision to overturn Roe could be a death sentence for our most marginalized communities who already face racism and barriers to health care. [The president] must declare a public health emergency to save lives.”
Pressley and Bush have previously advocated for Biden to declare an emergency to protect abortion access. In a letter sent last month, Pressley led 19 other Black women in Congress in urging Biden to “use every tool at your disposal to protect fundamental reproductive rights and abortion access across this country.” The lawmakers said that conservatives’ abortion bans would especially harm Black people, who already face higher pregnancy death rates than their white counterparts.
Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Tina Smith (D-Minnesota) have also asked for an emergency declaration in order to protect reproductive rights.
A public health emergency declaration would free up funds and government agency resources in order to respond to the crisis. Advocates say that the declaration is crucial so that the government has the authority and the resources to respond to an uptick in demand for reproductive health services.
It seems unlikely that the Biden administration will actually take this step, however. Reporters found last week that top Biden administration officials had already considered declaring a public health emergency after the Supreme Court decision last month and decided against it.
The director of the White House Gender Policy Council, Jennifer Klein, told reporters on Friday that it’s still a possibility, but that the declaration wouldn’t be that effective in responding to the problem.
Meanwhile, Biden has been facing criticism from Democrats and the left for his administration’s inaction on abortion rights so far.
Last week, the president signed an executive order that directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to research ways to expand abortion rights, like widening access to abortion medication and contraceptives and expanding its family planning services. While it includes some critical provisions like addressing data privacy concerns, abortion advocates said, it’s nowhere near enough to protect the people who will suffer due to the far right’s abortion bans.
Meanwhile, pro-abortion advocates lambasted the White House last week when White House communications director Kate Bedingfield criticized left-wing protesters who have been demonstrating against bans. “Joe Biden’s goal in responding to Dobbs is not to satisfy some activists who have been consistently out of step with the mainstream of the Democratic Party,” she said.
But progressives argue that it is Biden and mainstream Democrats who have been blocking action on abortion rights. After all, just two months ago, Biden had refused to endorse filibuster abolition or reform in order to codify Roe, and only changed his mind after the Supreme Court decision came down — after people had already been affected by state trigger laws that immediately implemented bans.
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