(The Hill) — The White House is quietly preparing for a Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, a consequential decision expected to come this month that will create immediate pressure to respond and take action.
Members of the administration have held listening sessions with state officials, advocacy groups and other stakeholders on abortion rights regarding the legal barriers to abortion already in place in certain states.
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Individuals who participated in those meetings told The Hill they are encouraged by the White House’s attention on the issue but are waiting for concrete details about how it will answer the expected decision.
“I believe that we are at least setting the stage to fight a bigger fight that’s going to happen,” said Marsha Jones, executive director of The Afiya Center, an organization devoted to the health of Black women and girls in Texas. “The White House, at least they are giving the perception that they are willing to fight this fight with us.”
“I do need to see something tangible,” added Jones, who participated in a May 21 meeting with Gender Policy Council Executive Director Jennifer Klein and Vice President Harris’s domestic policy adviser Rohini Kosoglu. “We’re all just sitting on pins and needles.”
Publicly, President Joe Biden has been largely mum on the issue of abortion in the weeks since he expressed outrage at the Supreme Court draft ruling nixing Roe, which leaked at the start of May.
Harris, meanwhile, has become one of the administration’s leading voices on the subject, holding a roundtable on Monday with faith leaders on abortion rights in Los Angeles and releasing a video on social media last week arguing that other rights are at risk if the court overturns the landmark abortion ruling.
Administration officials have been quiet about steps they are weighing in response to the ruling, and the White House is not expected to announce any specific plans until after it comes down.
“Protecting Americans’ constitutional right to make personal decisions about their own bodies and lives is a top priority for the President, and as he has said, the Administration will be ready when any ruling is issued,” said White House spokesperson Alexandra LaManna.
Since the draft decision leaked, White House officials have met with advocates from medical organizations, faith leaders and businesses, as well as elected officials from states that have moved ahead with restrictive abortion laws, such as Texas and Oklahoma, and states that have passed measures to protect abortion rights, including Connecticut and Maryland.
The focus on state and local leaders underscores that without action by Congress, the steps the Biden administration can take are limited and likely to be subject to Republican-led legal challenges.
The leaked draft ruling suggesting the high court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 decision found the Constitution protected a woman’s right to have an abortion, sent shock waves through Washington last month and engendered a new sense of urgency in the West Wing.
Advocates for abortion access who have met with the administration told The Hill that the White House has been interested to hear about needs on the ground while it is deciding how to respond.
“They wanted us to let them know how the White House can help in our advocacy and in our battles in our states,” said North Carolina state Rep. Julie von Haefen (D), who along with other state lawmakers participated in a meeting with Klein and White House intergovernmental affairs director Julie Chavez Rodriguez on Friday.
Von Haefen said that questions from White House officials included ones about access to abortion medication and any state bills prohibiting expenses for travel to receive an abortion.
“They’re really curious about what’s on the ground, and I know they’re weighing all of their options,” added Yvonne Hsu, chief policy and government affairs officer of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.
She pointed to areas the White House can focus on immediately to lessen the burden on women that were discussed in the May 21 meeting, including addressing the lack of access to information in languages other than English, squashing disinformation and curtailing fear in immigrant communities.
“What I am thankful to this White House for is not only calling those meetings, but calling them actually to listen, listen to what our concerns were across states,” said Kelly Davis, executive director of New Voices for Reproductive Justice.
She said she expressed a “series of concerns,” including that, compared to other groups, “Black pregnant people are going to experience the majority of health, finance and self-determination consequences.”
Still, other crises have seemed to take precedence at the White House in recent weeks, such as the string of mass shootings and the subsequently renewed push for gun control legislation, leaving some to worry that the abortion fight has taken a back seat.
“I think the moment has kind of passed and it isn’t on the front burner now as far as I can tell. The administration has got consumed with Ukraine, firearms and inflation,” said Lawrence Gostin, a public health law professor at Georgetown University.
“It’s not that they don’t want to do anything, it’s just that they just don’t think there’s anything immediate and powerful that they can do under the law,” he said.
In the immediate wake of the leaked draft opinion, Biden, who is a devout Catholic, used the word “abortion,” which marked a shift from not publicly speaking the word out loud during his presidency. Advocates for abortion access are hopeful that Biden leaning into the issue could mean he is more bullish when a ruling is out.
“I would love to see the White House take the following steps in the coming months, including that linguistically they have managed to actually speak in alignment with movements that talk about the word abortion,” Davis said.
With limited action available now, Democrats are also looking to make abortion an issue on the campaign trail ahead of the looming midterm elections, hoping that the fight will help energize members of the base and bring in swing voters.
Biden has called for voters to mobilize and elect more pro-abortion rights lawmakers to the state and federal levels, a call he reiterated when a vote failed in the 50-50 Senate last month on legislation that would have protected various abortion procedures. Harris has also echoed that message.
The White House has sought to paint Republicans as extreme for enacting abortion restrictions at the state level and opposing the Women’s Health Protection Act, a law that would codify federal abortion rights.
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“The Biden-Harris Administration is continuing to speak out as extremist Republican leaders are weaponizing the use of the law in states across the country to punish and control women,” a White House official said.