Steps from the court, lawmakers plot next moves on abortion

Republican leaders cheered the decision, while some Democrats called for abolishing the Senate filibuster, codifying Roe v. Wade and expanding the court

Capitol Police return to their staging area after clearing a path to the Capitol for House Democrats  after they spoke outside of the Supreme Court after the abortion decision. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Capitol Police return to their staging area after clearing a path to the Capitol for House Democrats after they spoke outside of the Supreme Court after the abortion decision. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted June 24, 2022 at 3:47pm

To see the schism on abortion in America, just listen and look to the signs.

On Friday, in front of a Supreme Court that had just overturned the nearly 50-year-old precedent creating a legal right to an abortion, anti-abortion activists danced to the song “Proud to be an American” while holding posters of gravestones marking the death of Roe v. Wade. Others took celebratory selfies in front of the court.

Meanwhile, abortion rights advocates rallied to a sardonic pop song, “F--- You” by Lily Allen, holding signs reading “America is not a Christian nation.” Women placed duct tape over their mouths in protest. Others cried.

Across the street, though, the decision marked a new milestone in the fight over reproductive health, with both sides of the debate faced with the same question: what to do next.

Republican leadership cheered the decision. Democrats vowed to fight the high court’s ruling with legislation to codify abortion rights where they could.

Others were more specific, laying out their thoughts on a post-Roe agenda that included everything from codifying the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion to banning abortion outright.

The Republican Study Committee endorsed the latter, sending out a reminder that they'd backed a bill, introduced by Mike Kelly, R-Pa., to ban abortions once a heartbeat is detectable.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., by contrast, called for abolishing the Senate filibuster, codifying Roe v. Wade, expanding the Supreme Court and ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.

"The women of this country will not take this decision lightly," she said, adding, "See you on the streets and at the polls in November."

Others took a different approach. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., proposed to increase the child tax credit and extend the postpartum Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, grants to two years, saying that Congress "needs to adopt pro-life policies that support families, rather than destroy them."

House Republican leadership vowed to fight back any efforts to overrule Friday's Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

“In the days and weeks following this decision, we must work to continue to reject extreme policies that seek to allow late-term abortions and taxpayer dollars to fund these elective procedures,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., said, acknowledging Democrats plans to try and protect abortion rights.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, a potential 2024 GOP presidential contender, called for a national ban on abortion, declaring it a “a new arena in the cause of life.”

“Having been given this second chance for Life, we must not rest and must not relent until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the land,” he said.

Democrats, too, were plotting a post-Roe future while worrying about broader implications of the decision.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said with this decision, contraception, in vitro fertilization and family planning are all at risk if Republicans take control of Congress after the midterms. She also called on Congress to codify Roe v. Wade.

“This cruel ruling is outrageous and heart-wrenching. But make no mistake: the rights of women and all Americans are on the ballot this November,” Pelosi said.

District of Columbia Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, warned that the high court’s decision presented a unique risk to abortion access in D.C., since a Republican-led Congress has the ability to ban abortion in the district.

“The decision is also a reminder to the country that D.C.’s lack of statehood means D.C. is subject to the whims of Congress. Republicans have repeatedly used D.C. to try to impose policies they cannot or do not have the support to impose nationally,” Norton said in a statement.

President Joe Biden acknowledged that "no executive order from the president" could restore legal rights to an abortion, but vowed to work to protect access to abortion medications as well as the right for women to cross state lines to receive an abortion.

His administration reiterated those promises. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said his department would work to enshrine access to safe and legal abortion, including access to Food and Drug Administration-approved medication abortion pills.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland also defended medication abortion and said states may not ban mifepristone, a medication used to end a pregnancy, "based on disagreement with the FDA's expert judgment about safety and efficacy."

Political implications

The initial reaction pivoted nearly immediately to the November elections, with Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue calling for donations.

“As we navigate a post-Roe world one thing is clear: This is not over. Reproductive justice advocates across the country will continue helping people access the care they need, and folks will continue fighting at the state level to protect their rights,” the platform tweeted.

The National Network of Abortion Funds announced a site outage in the hours after the decision was released. The group organizes donations to cover the costs of abortions and related transportation and child care, and was overwhelmed with traffic similar to when the draft decision leaked in May.

The National Right to Life Committee, meanwhile, has already taken action, issuing a memo on June 15 of a model law for states to prohibit all abortions not performed to save the life of the woman. It details how a state could pursue multiple forms of civil enforcement to prevent abortions and reduce the supply of abortion providers and types of procedures.

“With this model law, we are laying out a roadmap for the right-to-life movement so that, in a post-Roe society, we can protect many mothers and their children from the tragedy of abortion,” said Carol Tobias, the group’s president.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said her group plans to have a number of strategy decisions in the coming weeks.

The group announced rallies by all 50 state capital buildings, celebrating the decision at 11 a.m. local time on Saturday, and SFL first announced plans to set up the infrastructure to prepare for the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2019.

“There's going to be a lot of conversations in the pro-life movement as we move forward state by state,” she said. “Hopefully 880 babies will be saved tomorrow in 26 states who should move quickly to make abortion a thing of the past and to end this gruesome violence.”

Jessie Hellmann contributed to this report.