Minutes after the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade last summer, a group of aides from the West Wing ran to the Oval Office to brief President Biden on the decision. As they drafted a speech, Mr. Biden was the first person in the room to deliver what has since been the rallying cry of his administration.
Passing federal legislation, she said, is « the only thing that will actually restore rights that were just taken away, » recalled Jen Klein, director of the White House Gender Policy Council.
But if the prospect of codifying Roe’s protections in Congress a year ago seemed like a gamble, it’s nearly impossible to imagine now, with a far-right bloc surging in the House and a slim Democratic majority in the Senate.
Instead, with the battle over abortion rights turning to individual states, Biden administration officials are working with a limited set of tools, including executive orders and the galvanizing power of the presidency, to argue that Republicans who candidates in next year’s elections would also impose further restrictions on abortion.
“Make no mistake, this election is about freedom on the ballot,” Biden said Friday at a Democratic National Committee event, where he garnered endorsements from several abortion rights groups.
On Saturday, Vice President Kamala Harris was scheduled to give a speech in North Carolina marking the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate the constitutional right to abortion after nearly 50 years.
Ms Klein, who recalled news websites refreshing the day the decision was made last June, said she was « shocked but not surprised » by the court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson.
He added that « efforts to really take extreme action don’t represent the majority of opinion on where people stand on this. »
The White House has argued that Mr. Biden is reaching the legal limits of his powers through executive actions. Its latest executive action Friday in response to Dobbs’ decision directed federal agencies to look for ways to secure and expand access to birth control.
Mr. Biden previously issued a memorandum to protect access to abortion drugs in pharmacies and has taken actions to protect patients who cross state lines to seek assistance. The Justice Department has taken legal action against some states that restrict abortion. And the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the mifepristone abortion pill was quickly challenged in court. (In April, the Supreme Court issued an order to preserve access to the pill as litigation continues.)
As the White House has clarified its message on abortion rights, framing the fight in support of privacy, security and civil rights, so has the president. Mr. Biden, a Catholic who goes to Mass nearly every week, has struggled throughout his career in advocacy for abortion rights. Since Roe was overturned, he’s become more outspoken.
« I think he’s someone who really has his own opinions, and it was also pretty clear that Roe v. Wade was rightly decided, » Ms. Klein said.
Recent polls show that a majority of Americans may feel the same way. A USA Today/University of Suffolk poll conducted this week found that one in four Americans said that restrictive abortion bans enacted at the state level have made them more supportive of abortion rights. Another survey, conducted by PBS NewsHour, NPR and Maristsaid 61% of American adults support abortion rights.
Some activists suspect that some Republican presidential candidates are paying attention to the polls. Mike Pence, the former vice president and presidential candidate, said Friday that he would support a 15-week nationwide ban on the procedure. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina also supported that ban.
Other candidates have avoided taking a definitive position. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida signed a six-week abortion ban into law in her statealthough he has not said whether he would support a nationwide ban.
« It was the right thing to do, » Mr. DeSantis said Friday of signing the law.
The GOP’s early frontrunner, former President Donald J. Trump, takes credit for appointing the Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Trump. Wade, but so far also has resisted embracing a federal ban.
As the GOP camp convenes, the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee will make abortion a primary focus of the president’s re-election effort. This week, the Biden campaign launched an ad campaign focused on battleground states, including funding billboards in Times Square that will highlight Republican efforts to limit access to abortion.
The Democratic National Committee is also encouraging local Democrats to lobby Republicans to specify what their position is on the national bans, it believes will help counter Biden’s approach with extremist positions, according to a DNC official.
Inside the White House, Ms. Klein said officials are monitoring court cases in individual states and bringing together abortion-rights activists to compare notes on which policies have been successful.
However, activists fear court victories could be short-lived and do not eliminate the threat of a broader abortion ban as legislation would.
In recent months, administration officials have routinely highlighted the stories of women who were denied emergency medical care when they suffered a pregnancy loss.
Ms. Harris, who has made several trips and given speeches in defense of abortion rights, has often introduced health care providers at her events to make the argument that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is a private decision and not must be mocked by local politicians.
Jill Biden, the first lady, has also been enlisted in the effort. She hosted a group of women in the Blue Room of the White House on Tuesday and asked them to share their stories. One of the women, Dr. Austin Dennard, a Texas physician, said she was forced to travel out of state to have an abortion when her fetus was diagnosed with anencephaly, a condition that causes a baby to be born without parts of its brain. and skull.
Another, a Houston-based Democratic campaign worker named Elizabeth Weller, went into labor at 18 weeks and was told to go home until she developed an infection so severe that an ethics committee at the hospital allowed a doctor to terminate the pregnancy.
« Joe is doing everything he can, » the first lady told the group.
Mini Timmaraju, chair of abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, agreed the Biden administration is « doing everything it can, » but said the limits are real.
« We have to give them a pro-choice majority Congress, » he said. « That’s it. They’ve done everything they could up to that point, but without Congressional support, they’re limited, and we’re limited in what we can do. »