Biden vows to ‘restore’ nationwide abortion rights in second term

President Joe Biden speaks during an event on the campus of George Mason University in Manassas, Va., Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, to campaign for abortion rights, a top issue for Democrats in the upcoming presidential election. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

By Isabel Soisson

January 23, 2024

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris appeared in Virginia on Tuesday, where they reiterated their commitment to reproductive rights and underscored the stakes of this year’s presidential election.

The event, the pair’s first joint campaign appearance of 2024, came just one day after the 51st anniversary of the US Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which enshrined the federal constitutional right to an abortion. Roe was overturned by the current right-wing Court in 2022, stripping tens of millions of American women of their reproductive freedom.

“Today in America, women are being turned away from emergency rooms, forced to travel hundreds of miles to get basic health care,” Biden said at the event. “Forced to go to court to plead for help for themselves and for their ability to have children in the future. The cruelty is astounding, and it’s a direct affront to a woman’s dignity to be told by extreme politicians and judges to wait to get sicker and sicker before anything can happen.”

Biden once again vowed to restore the protections of Roe, should he be elected to a second term, but noted that he needs a Democratic House of Representatives, and a greater Democratic majority in the Senate in order to achieve this.

“It was Donald Trump and his Supreme Court who ripped aways the freedoms of women in America, and it’ll be Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and all of you who will restore those rights,” Biden said.

The Biden campaign has made it clear that abortion rights will be at the forefront of its campaign. A new campaign ad released earlier this week features an OBGYN discussing how she had to travel out of state to receive an abortion due to Texas’ ultra-strict ban which prohibits abortion in almost all circumstances.

Since Roe was overturned and laws regulating abortion were returned to the states, nearly two dozen states have passed laws banning or restricting abortion in one way or the other.

In Nevada, abortion is legal until 24 weeks of pregnancy and reproductive rights advocates have launched an effort to enshrine abortion rights under the state constitution via a ballot measure this year.

In a statement issued Monday, Biden called out Republican lawmakers across the country who have used the opportunity to enact abortion bans in their states.

Because of Republican elected officials, women’s health and lives are at risk,” he said. “In states across the country, women are being turned away from emergency rooms, forced to go to court to seek permission for the medical attention they need, and made to travel hundreds of miles for health care.”

The Biden administration has taken many steps to strengthen reproductive rights during the president’s time in office.

On Monday, the administration announced several new measures; for example, federal agencies will be issuing new guidance to “clarify standards” and make sure FDA-approved contraceptive medications are available free of charge under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The Office of Personnel Management will also be offering new guidance to insurers to ensure that contraception access is strengthened for federal workers, retirees, and family members.

Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will also be announcing a new plan to increase awareness and understanding of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which requires patients to receive emergency medical care, even if they aren’t able to pay for it.

In 2022, HHS issued guidance that stated that under EMTALA, doctors are required to perform abortions in emergency departments if it is considered a “stabilizing medical treatment,” even in states where the procedure is illegal.

That guidance is the subject of a lawsuit from the Republican attorneys general of Idaho and Texas, who have argued that their abortion bans are not preempted by the federal guidance and do not violate EMTALA, which they claim requires emergency departments to stabilize both a pregnant woman and an “unborn child.”

The Supreme Court is set to hear the Idaho case in April and ultimately decide whether abortions can be provided under EMTALA.

Furthermore, in its statement issued Monday, the White House said that both the Department of Justice and FDA would defend access to mifepristone before the Supreme Court, which is hearing a case from anti-abortion groups seeking to revoke the FDA’s 2000 approval of the drug. Mifepristone, along with another drug, misoprostol, is approved through 10 weeks of pregnancy, and is used in more than half of abortions nationwide.

Biden’s likely opponent in November, Donald Trump, has meanwhile repeatedly boasted about his role in appointing three of the Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe.

“For 54 years they were trying to get Roe v. Wade terminated, and I did it. And I’m proud to have done it,” Trump said earlier this month. “We did something that was a miracle.”

“The person most responsible for taking away this freedom in America is Donald Trump,” Biden said at Tuesday’s event. “Listen to what he says–Trump says he’s proud that he overturned Roe v. Wade…he says there has to be punishment for women exercising their reproductive freedom. He describes the Dobbs decision as a miracle, but for American women it’s a nightmare.”

A second Trump term could lead to the further loss of reproductive freedom.

Conservative activists have crafted an expansive blueprint that lays out in detail how they intend to leverage virtually every arm, tool, and agency of the federal government to attack abortion access—including by banning and criminalizing access to abortion medication. That plan—which is more than 900 pages long—was put together by Trump’s allies and includes ways to make abortion inaccessible without actually passing any new laws at all.

The theory: Trump could replace nonpolitical staff in government agencies with right-wing loyalists to erode abortion rights, including by hiring staff at the US Food and Drug Administration to reject medical science and reverse its approval of all abortion medication.

Project 2025, as the plan has been called, also calls for the US Department of Justice to start enforcing the Comstock Act of 1873. The old law bans the mailing of “anything designed, adapted, or intended for producing abortion,” which could include medical instruments.

Another key part of the plan involves ending insurance coverage for reproductive care —including by blocking the Department of Veterans Affairs from offering abortions to veterans, prohibiting the disbursement of Medicaid funds to states that require insurers to cover abortions, and cutting off funding to hospitals that perform abortions, even to save the life of the mother.

  • Isabel Soisson

    Isabel Soisson is a multimedia journalist who has worked at WPMT FOX43 TV in Harrisburg, along with serving various roles at CNBC, NBC News, Philadelphia Magazine, and Philadelphia Style Magazine.

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