President Joe Biden last Thursday announced a “whole-of-government” response to “ensure” abortion access in Texas, after the state’s pro-life law went into effect September 1.
In a September 2 statement, the president – a Catholic – directed his administration to examine “what steps the Federal Government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions.”
On Wednesday, September 1, the “Texas Heartbeat Act” went into effect. The law prohibits abortions in the state after the detection of a foetal heartbeat – which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy. It can be enforced by private lawsuits. The law went into effect last Wednesday, after the Supreme Court had not yet acted on a petition to block it.
Late that night, the court ultimately rejected the petition to block the law in a 5-4 decision. Biden denounced the decision as “an unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights” to abortion.
Biden said he was directing his White House Gender Policy Council, as well as the White House counsel, “to launch a whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision,” reviewing “what legal tools we have to insulate women and providers from the impact of Texas’ bizarre scheme of outsourced enforcement to private parties”.
It is unclear what action the administration would take on implementation of Texas’ law. Vice President Kamala Harris, in her 2020 presidential campaign platform, had promised that her Justice Department would have oversight over all state abortion laws.
A proposed law in Congress, the Women’s Health Protection Act, would grant women a “right” to an abortion and would override most state abortion regulations.
When asked about the proposed law, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said she would have to review the “specifics” of the bill to comment.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court majority ruled that the petitioners in the Texas case – the abortion providers requesting the “heartbeat” law be blocked – had not made a sufficient case for relief.
“In particular, this order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts,” the court majority ruled.