U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to protect the right of American women to access abortion, following what he called the “tragic” and “extreme” decision by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. The 1973 ruling had guaranteed a woman’s constitutional right to end her pregnancy.
“I share the public outrage to this extremist court, that’s committed to moving America backwards with fewer rights, less autonomy, and politicians invading the most personal decisions,” Biden said Friday in a virtual meeting with Democratic governors to discuss protecting abortion access.
Biden reiterated his support to end the Senate’s filibuster rule in order to secure broader constitutional rights to privacy including abortion.
Sixty-one percent of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to the latest Pew Research poll.
The president warned that authorities in states outlawing abortion may arrest women for crossing state lines to obtain the procedure elsewhere.
“I don’t think people believe that’s going to happen, but it’s going to happen,” he said, calling the issue a “gigantic deal” that affects all basic rights of Americans.
Last week the administration announced it would protect women’s access to medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including contraceptives and pills to end pregnancy such as mifepristone. It also pledged to defend the “bedrock right” of a woman to travel across state lines to terminate her pregnancy.
Biden urged Americans to vote for lawmakers who support abortion rights, saying that two more Democratic senators were needed to change the filibuster rules in the Senate, which could allow a bill to pass that would codify the right to an abortion. The term filibuster describes actions designed to prolong debate to delay or prevent a vote by lawmakers.
“The choice is clear,” he said. “We either elect federal senators and representatives who will codify Roe, or Republicans who will elect a House and Senate that will try to ban abortions nationwide.”
Thirteen Republican-led states have banned or severely restricted the procedure under so-called trigger laws after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last week in a 6-3 ruling that fell along ideological lines.
Because of the decision that overturned Roe — known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — more states are expected to outlaw or severely restrict access to the procedure, which may force women living in those states to travel to the approximately 20 states where abortion services will likely remain available in the immediate future.
“Utter chaos lies ahead,” warned Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, predicting that some states will “race to the bottom with criminal abortion bans, forcing people to travel across multiple state lines and, for those without means to travel, carry their pregnancies to term — dictating their health, lives and futures.”
Roe v. Wade ruled that states may not regulate abortion for any reason during the first trimester of pregnancy and may regulate abortion only to protect the health of the woman during the second trimester. During the third trimester, the state may regulate or prohibit abortion to promote its interest in the potential life of the fetus, except where abortion is necessary to preserve the woman’s life or health.
Dobbs v. Jackson was welcomed by Republicans including Senator Ted Cruz of Texas who called it a “massive victory for life” that will “save the lives of millions of innocent babies,” as well as by the anti-abortion movement.
“With this ruling, the abortion business that has been built through the exploitation of women and the killing of their children is beginning to crumble,” said Mary Szoch, director of the Center for Human Dignity of the Family Research Council. In a statement she said the work does not stop here as in some states, “the evil of abortion that ends the life of a unique child, breaks the heart of a mother and father, and shatters the conscience of a nation continues.”
Earlier this week, Biden warned that the Supreme Court, which is now dominated by conservative justices, may expand its rulings to other areas concerning the right to privacy, including the legality of same-sex marriage and the availability of legal contraception.
The three liberal justices of the Supreme Court that voted against the ruling noted a “worldwide liberalization of abortion laws.” In their dissenting opinion, Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan warned that some U.S. states “will become international outliers” following the Dobbs ruling.
Since the 1990s, only the U.S., El Salvador, Poland and Nicaragua have rolled back access to abortion, while about 60 countries have liberalized sexual and reproductive rights.
About 91 million women of reproductive age live in about 24 countries or territories that prohibit abortion under any circumstances, including El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Malta, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Haiti, Iraq, Madagascar, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Senegal and Suriname.
Following a summit with NATO leaders in Madrid Thursday, Biden denied that the decision by the court contributes to the perception of world leaders that the U.S. is going backward but slammed the ruling as “destabilizing” and “outrageous.”
“They do not think that. You haven’t found one person — one world leader to say America is going backwards. America is better positioned to lead the world than we ever have been,” he said.
“The one thing that has been destabilizing is the outrageous behavior of the Supreme Court of the United States on overruling not only Roe v. Wade, but essentially challenging the right to privacy,” he added. “We’ve been a leader in the world in terms of personal rights and privacy rights, and it is a mistake, in my view, for the Supreme Court to do what it did.”
International rights groups have warned that the reversal of Roe v. Wade will weaken abortion rights around the world. The United Nations agency that supports reproductive health care, UNFPA, said the decision has “a wider impact on the rights and choices of women and adolescents everywhere,” including in developing countries where most illegal, unsafe abortions currently occur.
“We expect that this decision will embolden those seeking to undermine women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights,” Sandy Keenan, senior director of communications and marketing of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told VOA. The group urged governments around the world to condemn the U.S. “regression on abortion rights.”
At least two world leaders have. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called overturning Roe “horrific,” and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was “a big step backwards.”