Biden condemns 'terrible' court decisions but has few powers

Josh Wingrove and Kate Queram, Bloomberg News on

Published in Political News

President Joe Biden’s administration is still exploring legal options to buttress protections for abortion services, but a top spokeswoman signaled his team sees few or none after what Biden called a “terrible” ruling.

Biden again condemned the decision by the court’s conservative majority on Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade, opening the door for states to ban abortions.

“We’re going to continue to see what else we can do,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Saturday on Air Force One. “But I guess what I’m trying to say about the executive actions, is that nothing could make, could fill the hole that this decision has made” other than Congress passing a law, she said.

Biden on Friday announced a pair of specific responses to the ruling: the Department of Health and Human Services would support availability of abortion pills and ensure insurance coverage of contraceptives, while the Department of Justice signaled it would offer legal support for anyone facing prosecution for crossing state lines to get an abortion.

“The way to look at this — he did use executive authority, and that matters,” Jean-Pierre said. At the same time, she signaled the limited options at Biden’s disposal.

“I don’t have anything to read out to you specifically on a strategy,” she said.

The administration has been coy about whether it will issue any sort of executive order, a presidential power that is often more symbolic than binding.

Biden on Saturday declined to answer questions about court reform, including on whether he favors eliminating the filibuster for abortion — which would allow a law on it to pass the Senate with 50 votes instead of 60 — or other measures, like expanding the Supreme Court or pursuing term limits for its justices.

“I think the Supreme Court has made some terrible decisions,” he said at an appearance to sign a bipartisan gun control law.


“Jill and I know how painful and devastating the decision is for so many Americans,” he said, with first lady Jill Biden at his side. “We’re going to take actions to protect women’s rights and reproductive health.”

Biden warned Friday that executive authority is substantially limited, leaving him few or no options to fill the gaps created by the overturning of Roe v. Wade. He has called on Congress to instead pass a law codifying Roe — though there aren’t sufficient votes for that in the current Congress — and for voters to elect more Democrats.

“The only way to make that whole again is for congress to act,” Jean-Pierre said Saturday.

Biden acknowledged the limits of his powers in an initial reaction on Friday, while signaling that Democrats would make abortion rights a campaign theme for midterm elections in November.

“This fall, Roe is on the ballot, personal freedoms are on the ballot, the right to privacy, liberty, equality — they’re all on a ballot,” Biden said.

Biden has directed the Department of Health and Human Services to make sure that mifepristone, an abortion drug, can be prescribed by telehealth and through pharmacies, and to make sure insurers don’t stop covering contraceptives, including emergency contraceptives, an official familiar with the process said Friday.

The Department of Justice will support the right to travel, and look to intervene in cases on behalf of people facing legal action for traveling to receive an abortion, the official said.

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