Abortion at a crossroads after midterm with focus on states

FILE - Sen. Tina Smith, D, joins other Democrats in expressing outrage over a news report from Politico that a draft Supreme Court opinion suggested justices could be willing to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide. The National, at the Washington Capitol, Tuesday, May 3, 2022 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

FILE – Sen. Tina Smith, D, joins other Democrats in expressing outrage over a news report from Politico that a draft Supreme Court opinion suggested justices could be willing to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide. The National, at the Washington Capitol, Tuesday, May 3, 2022 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)


Before Democrat Tina Smith ran for Senate, she volunteered at a Planned Parenthood clinic in her home state of Minnesota where protesters confronted women as they entered.

That experience is on her mind this Sunday, the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the right to abortion nationwide until it was overturned last year.

“It feels like a blank day,” she said.

The White House is trying to replace that sense of emptiness with anger and resolution this weekend by showing determination to restore abortion rights despite little chance of progress in Washington.

Vice President Kamala Harris is leading the effort with a speech in Florida, where Democrats fear an attempt to renew abortion by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Harris intends to say, according to excerpts from her speech, “America is the land of the free and the home of the brave.” But let’s ask: Can we really be free if a woman can’t make decisions about her own body? Can we really be free if a doctor can’t take care of her patients? Can we truly be free if families cannot make intimate decisions about their life path? “

Harris’ decision to speak in Tallahassee, the state capital, reflects how the battle lines have shifted since last summer. Now that there is no longer a national right to abortion, discussions of this issue will take place in individual state houses rather than in the halls of Congress or before the Supreme Court. White House officials last week called on top lawmakers from eight states to discuss the pending legislation.

In addition, after doing better than expected in the November elections, Democrats see abortion as a key issue for their party in 2024, when control of the White House and both houses of Congress will be at the same time. DeSantis may seek the Republican presidential nomination, the first step to challenging President Joe Biden, who has been preparing for his re-election campaign.

White House press secretary Karen Jean-Pierre said Florida is important because its abortion rules are less restrictive than its neighbors, making it a relatively safe haven for women in the region trying to terminate their pregnancies. But the Republican-controlled state government could consider more restrictions.

DeSantis’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

“Women should be able to make these deeply personal decisions free from political interference,” Biden said, in a statement on Sunday. Yet Republicans in Congress and across the country continue to push for a national abortion ban, criminalization of doctors and nurses, and access to Contraceptives are more difficult. It’s dangerous, extreme and far from reality.”

Selinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who has worked with Biden, said the White House strategy on abortion has three goals.

“You can create an atmosphere and put pressure on these countries to make it more difficult to pass the strict restrictions,” she said. Additionally, Lake said, “You can prepare the variance for 2024” and “You can use this as a major incentive for people to get out and vote.”

Democrats have concluded that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade reshaped the political landscape of last year’s election, renewing the party’s chances when analysts predicted a GOP pullout.

Democrats are still losing control of the House of Representatives and have expanded their majority in the Senate by just one vote, which means that legislation that would create abortion right nationwide remains a long way off.

There are concerns that Biden and his administration have exhausted their options for executive action.

This month, the Food and Drug Administration announced that abortion pills will become more widely available at pharmacies and through the mail. Pills can also be obtained through a virtual appointment, rather than a visit to the doctor’s office.

A legal battle is now raging in federal court in Texas, as abortion opponents sued to overturn the approval of the drug decades ago.

“The administration is really looking at existing federal law, trying to make use of it,” said Lawrence Gostin, who directs the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health in Georgetown Law.

Not all management ideas were realized. Biden announced last year that states could apply for waivers to use Medicaid dollars to pay for women to travel to get abortions. No concessions were sought.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra declined to say why he believes the states have not accepted the administration’s offer.

“I’ll let you talk to the different states,” he said Thursday. “We’ve done the show there and continue to challenge people to find ways to make sure nobody loses access to health care.”

Becerra was in Minnesota, where Democratic leaders were finalizing legislation to codify abortion rights into state law.

“We will continue to work with states like Minnesota that are willing to do the things necessary to include in our laws the protections that forever prevent any American from losing access to health care,” Becerra said during an event with the Democratic governor. Tim Walz and the Legislators.

Across states, the fight to protect abortion access is taking place in courtrooms, with active litigation against abortion restrictions in 14 states, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The health nonprofit found that advocates generally took one of three approaches to escalating legal challenges against abortion laws by claiming that the laws violate state constitutional protections, violate certain states’ guaranteed rights to make health care choices, or prevent religious freedoms.

It’s unclear what legal arguments might be more successful, as state supreme courts ultimately decide how to access abortion. Meanwhile, opponents of abortion are looking for ways to use the courts to further restrict abortion.

Renee Pressey Sherman, founder and CEO of the group We Testify, which advocates for women who have had abortions, said she was disappointed that Biden hadn’t done more.

“The fact that he’s missing in action during this public health emergency is really embarrassing,” she said.

Smith, the Minnesota senator, joined Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, last year to call on Biden to officially declare a public health emergency.

Biden never did, but Smith said she was satisfied with the steps he took.

“I would be hard-pressed to point out something they didn’t might have done with a public health emergency,” she said.


Associated Press writer Steve Karnowski in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Amanda Seitz contributed to this report.

This story was originally published Jan 22, 2023 4:09 AM.

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