Biden Says Emergency to Defend Abortion Rights Is Still on Table


WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said he has asked his team to explore the possibility of declaring a public health emergency to safeguard abortion rights after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision.

“I’ve asked the folks on the medical — people in the administration to look at whether I have the authority to do that and what impact it would have,” Biden told reporters on Sunday. He urged abortion rights supporters to ‘keep protesting.” 

Top officials at the Health and Human Services Department and the White House discussed the emergency option before a June 28 news conference by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, but set aside the idea due to concern that the impact wouldn’t justify the inevitable legal battle, according to people familiar with the matter.

Jennifer Klein, director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said Friday that an emergency declaration is “not off the table,” but questioned whether it would help. The government’s public health emergency fund has only “tens of thousands of dollars” and the measure wouldn’t “release a significant amount of legal authority,” she said.

Biden has been on the defensive over what activists and some Democrats consider a tepid White House response to last month’s ruling, in which the Supreme Court’s conservative majority threw out the constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years.

In a sign of the tensions, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield was quoted in The Washington Post as defending Biden’s response and saying his goal isn’t to “satisfy some activists who have been consistently out of step with the mainstream of the Democratic Party.”

Hundreds of abortion rights supporters rallied near the White House on Saturday in the latest protest against the Supreme Court ruling. Biden, who was spending the weekend at his beach house in Delaware, said his message to them was, “Yes, keep protesting, keep making your point. It’s critically important.”

The president reiterated his “bottom line” goal is to codify abortion rights in U.S. law. That would require Republican support in Congress that isn’t forthcoming.