Democrats in the White House and on Capitol Hill are planning to respond to the Supreme Court’s allowing a law virtually banning abortion in Texas to take effect, but there was no clear path to counter the state law.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday highlighted an announcement by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that the House would be taking up legislation designed to codify Roe v. Wade protections, calling it “something the president certainly supports and would be eager to sign into law.”
But, when asked by name about the legislation cited by Pelosi, the press secretary was not as definitive.
“We are looking at a range of options in Congress including that, the Women’s Health Protection Act, but I don’t have an assessment at this point in time about that piece of legislation,” Psaki told reporters.
That’s still likely a moot point, since no abortion-related legislation would reach President Joe Biden’s desk without likely having to alter the legislative filibuster in the Senate.
The president has already asked a commission to review the structure and operation of the Supreme Court, with recommendations likely due in October, but the Wednesday night “shadow docket” decision, effectively upending decades of precedent on abortion to allow the Texas law to take effect, will only invite more scrutiny.
“This law is so extreme it does not even allow for exceptions in the case of rape or incest. And it not only empowers complete strangers to inject themselves into the most private of decisions made by a woman — it actually incentivizes them to do so with the prospect of $10,000 if they win their case,” Biden said in a statement. “For the majority to do this without a hearing, without the benefit of an opinion from a court below, and without due consideration of the issues, insults the rule of law and the rights of all Americans to seek redress from our courts.”
Pelosi was among the Democrats to echo that sentiment, expressing concern about both the intent and the structure of the Texas law.
“SB8 unleashes one of the most disturbing, unprecedented and far-reaching assaults on health care providers — and on anyone who helps a woman, in any way, access an abortion — by creating a vigilante bounty system that will have a chilling effect on the provision of any reproductive health care services. This provision is a cynical, backdoor attempt by partisan lawmakers to evade the Constitution and the law to destroy not only a woman’s right to health care but potentially any right or protection that partisan lawmakers target,” Pelosi said.
The Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus scheduled an emergency leadership meeting Thursday afternoon on what else Congress can do in response.
Republican lawmakers like Texas GOP Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn were not jumping to issue statements about the decision. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the Supreme Court's decision was technical, and said at an event in Kentucky that, “whether it leads to a broader ruling on Roe v. Wade is unclear at this point.”
Democrats are treating the Supreme Court’s move as what Vice President Kamala Harris described as “a significant blow” to Roe v. Wade.
“This decision is not the last word on Roe v. Wade, and we will not stand by and allow our nation to go back to the days of back-alley abortions. We will not abide by cash incentives for virtual vigilantes and intimidation for patients,” Harris said in a statement. “We will use every lever of our Administration to defend the right to safe and legal abortion — and to strengthen that right.”
To that end, Biden directed the White House counsel’s office and the Gender Policy Council to “launch a whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision” with involvement from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice.
Sandhya Raman contributed to this report.