Democrats pressure Biden to take executive action on abortion rights

President Biden promised to do everything in his power to protect abortion access after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. In the days since that historic ruling, pressure from Democrats in Congress and outside advocates is mounting on Biden to take executive action on the issue, as some states move to restrict and ban the procedure. Laura Barrón-López joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Biden promised to do everything in his power to protect abortion access after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

    In the days since that historic ruling, pressure from Democrats in Congress and from outside advocates has been mounting on the president to take executive action as some states move to restrict and ban the procedure.

    To help us understand what choices the president has and what comes next, I'm joined now by our White House correspondent, Laura Barrón-López.

    Laura, hello.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Hello.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you have been spending some time looking at this.

    We know the president's options are limited. They're not endless. He is getting this pressure from Democrats in Congress, outside advocates. Give us a sense of what they're pushing him to do and what's realistic.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Right.

    So the president is abroad this week, as we know, Judy, but he's facing so much pressure to act quickly and to act — to get creative about what kind of proposals he could do unilaterally.

    And so I want to just run through the executive action proposals that the president is being pushed to take and which ones he may not. So the first one is providing abortions on federal property. That's something that the White House has said it's not considering at this point.

    They really don't want to go that route, because a White House official told me today that it could put women and providers are at risk of criminal liability, especially if a Republican president comes into power after Biden.

    The next one, declare public — declare a public health emergency. That's something that a number of Black congresswomen have been really pushing the president to do. They think that it could free up a lot of resources and improve coordination across federal — from federal to state to private and public health care. The White House has not said either way.

    Next, expand access on military bases. That's something that General Austin has actually said that they cannot do. There are a lot of limitations with law — with the law right now. And so that's not something that the White House is going to be considering.

    Increase access to medication abortion, this is a big one, something that could probably impact the most people across the country. And that would require the FDA to pretty much declare that they are going to preempt state laws, that they have the power to do that under the Constitution to provide this — these abortion pills.

    It also would require them to drop one of their final restrictions, which makes pharmacies obtain a license to distribute the drug.

    And then, finally, Medicaid funding for interstate travel. What's key here is that it's funding for traveling, not for the procedure itself. And so that would require HHS to direct that ability for people to have that funding if they travel across state lines.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So these are all the things that these different promoters doing something are talking to the White House about.

    But you're finding in your reporting, you were telling us, that there is now a growing divide among these groups and advocates about what to push.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    So there are a number of progressive lawmakers Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts as well, but they are really pushing the president to get as creative as possible and push the envelope.

    Now, I spoke to Mini Timmaraju today. She's the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. And she had this to say about the frustrations that we're hearing from a number of Democrats:

  • Mini Timmaraju, President, NARAL Pro-Choice America:

    I understand the frustration. We share it.

    But I also think the attention needs to be paid elsewhere. I think there are limitations to what the executive branch can do, quite frankly. And now that the Supreme Court has banned abortion, has overturned Roe, the fights really are in the states.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    So, Timmaraju said that she's not unnecessarily endorsing a cautious approach, but that, so far, she thinks that the White House is doing what it needs to do in order to get ready for potential executive actions.

    But I was talking to a number of law professors today who actually advise the White House. And one of them, Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown, said that, yes, the president's heart is in the right place, but that he was surprised that the White House didn't have executive actions or a game plan right off the bat when the decision came down, because everyone had been expecting the Supreme Court to rule this way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's interesting.

    So we know, Laura, at the end of the day, the Supreme Court's rule, the president can't in any way turn this decision around. And he's dealing with a Congress right now, because of the numbers in both the House and the Senate, where the votes are just not there to make major changes on abortion.

    So how much of what the White House is looking at has to do with the midterm elections and seeing what the next Congress looks like?

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    A White House official told me today that the president is being straight with the American public, that he's just trying to tell the truth about what's realistic and what's not realistic.

    And when the president addressed the nation right after the Supreme Court decision, this is how he framed it:

  • President Joe Biden:

    We need to restore the protections of Roe as law of the land. We need to elect officials who will do that. This fall, Roe is on the ballot. Personal freedoms are on the ballot.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    You heard the president right there say that it's all about the midterm elections.

    And so the White House is really stressing that point. Every official that you talk to says that, ultimately, if voters do not elect more Democrats to the Senate, then reversing what the Supreme Court did is not possible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we're hearing the vice president put that message out as well right now.

    Laura Barrón-López, thank you very much.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Thank you.

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