Abortion rights groups want Biden to use bully pulpit after Texas law

President BidenJoe BidenWhite House: Window for finalizing sweeping budget package 'closing' Jayapal says tuition-free community college 'probably won't' be in spending plan Jan. 6 panel votes to hold Bannon in contempt MORE is under pressure to do more to support reproductive rights after the Supreme Court allowed Texas to move forward with its abortion law, the most restrictive in the nation.

Biden, who has had a rocky relationship with abortion rights groups in the past, is vowing to protect Roe v. Wade and assess possible federal responses to the Texas abortion ban.

On Thursday, Biden said his administration would look for places where it can take unilateral action, with the White House also saying Congress needs to pass legislation to protect abortion access.

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Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhite House: Window for finalizing sweeping budget package 'closing' Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing Fixing Congress requires fixing how it legislates MORE (D-Calif.) said that when the House returns later this month it will vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act to codify Roe v. Wade.

Abortion rights group NARAL wants the White House to voice strong support for the bill.

“The White House should make clear their commitment to this critical legislation to ensure no other state has the opportunity to follow in Texas’ footsteps,” said Kristin Ford, NARAL’s acting vice president of communications and research.

“It is time for Congress and the White House to explore every possible avenue to restore our democracy and stand up for our fundamental freedoms,” she added. 

The Texas law, which was signed in May and went into effect on Wednesday after the Supreme Court declined to block it, bans abortions at six weeks and allows most citizens to file lawsuits against abortion providers if they think the provider infringed on the policy. 

The White House hasn’t elaborated on what tools the federal government has at its disposal to counter the state law, but Biden indicated on Friday that the Justice Department might take action against the provision that allows citizens to file lawsuits.

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“I was told there are possibilities within the existing law to have the Justice Department look and see whether there are things that can be done that can limit the independent action of individuals in enforcing ... a state law. I don’t know enough to give you an answer yet. I’ve asked that to be checked,” he told reporters.

Attorney General Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandAndrew McCabe's settlement with the Department of Justice is a signal to John Durham Ron Johnson slams DOJ's investigation of schools, saying it unfairly targets parents Biden's Supreme Court reform study panel notes 'considerable' risks to court expansion MORE said the Justice Department is “evaluating all options” to protect a woman’s right to an abortion. 

The Gender Policy Council and White House counsel met with reproductive rights advocates to hear their views on the Texas law after the president directed the two offices to launch a whole-of-government response. 

“On the table, we’re looking at legislative actions, what are the best legislative actions, what are the actions that the administration itself can do, and he wants to see action and remains committed to that,” White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-PierreKarine Jean-PierreBiden sends 'best wishes' to Clinton following hospitalization The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by The Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations - US opens to vaccinated visitors as FDA panel discusses boosters Biden intends to sign short-term bill raising debt ceiling MORE told reporters on Friday.

“This is all being taken seriously by Speaker Pelosi and Senate Democrats, and we’re going to work closely with them,” she added.

The Women’s Health Protection Act faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Republicans would likely filibuster it. 

The Senate companion to the House bill has the support of 48 Democrats, but two Democrats, Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinWhite House: Window for finalizing sweeping budget package 'closing' Progressives see budget deal getting close after Biden meeting Democrats at odds with Manchin over child tax credit provision MORE (W.Va.) and Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyManchin, Sanders to seek deal on Biden agenda Democrats struggle to gain steam on Biden spending plan Building back better by investing in workers and communities MORE (Pa.), have not signed on as co-sponsors.

“I think it’s important that the Senate look again,” Jacqueline Ayers, vice president of government relations and public policy at Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said when asked if Biden should push Manchin and Casey to support it.

Another advocacy organization, the Center for Reproductive Rights, said it was satisfied with the administration’s commitment to women’s rights after Biden put out a statement on Thursday.

“President Biden’s statement affirmed the administration’s commitment to abortion rights and access, and the Women’s Health Protection Act is the federal bill that enshrines those rights into law,” said Katherine Gillespie, the center’s acting director of federal policy and advocacy. 

Ayers also said Biden’s statement was “really strong” and that the group is pleased to date with what the administration has done on women’s rights.

“Just using the bully pulpit of the highest office of the land, for the president to say that this is completely out of touch, and we know it is out of touch,” Ayers said. “To see the president of the United States reflecting the views and the values of where we know voters are, [it] cannot be understated how crucial that is.”

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That level of engagement was on display Thursday when White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiWhite House: Window for finalizing sweeping budget package 'closing' Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing Democrats at odds with Manchin over child tax credit provision MORE pushed back on a male reporter who cited Biden’s Catholic faith when asking about his stance on abortion. 

Psaki said Biden “believes that it is a woman’s right, it is a woman’s body and it is her choice” and told the reporter, “I know you’ve never faced those choices, nor have you ever been pregnant.” 

Biden’s support for abortion rights has been a topic of debate for Catholic bishops. Biden, just the second Catholic president in U.S. history, regularly goes to church and touts his faith as a deeply personal aspect of his life.

Reproductive rights advocates haven't always been satisfied with Biden's position on abortion. Throughout his long political career, he supported the Hyde Amendment, which first passed Congress in 1976, to prohibit federal funds to be used to pay for abortions.

Biden changed his stance during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, when he said that he can no longer support it. He said Republicans’ efforts to restrict abortion prompted him to change his mind.

The president didn’t include the Hyde Amendment in his 2022 budget, which was hailed by reproductive rights groups. Planned Parenthood said at the time it was “exciting to see the admin’s historic step.”

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“I think that we saw around that time there was a clear commitment to Hyde repeal, and that commitment was delivered upon when we saw the budget,” Ayers said.

She added that actions like this from the president are steps in the right direction. 

“I think this is momentum,” she said. “We’re seeing these actions that have already happened, and we fully expect that the administration will continue down this path of sticking by what he said that he supports reproductive rights and reproductive freedoms, and their actions are showing that.”