Biden weighs public health emergency in support of abortion access -- tells advocates, 'Keep protesting'

Activists and Democrats have pressured Biden to be more aggressive on the issue.

July 10, 2022, 1:50 PM

President Joe Biden said Sunday he was looking into declaring a public health emergency in support of abortion access across the country after Roe v. Wade was overturned last month.

“That’s something I’m asking the medical people in the administration to look at, whether I have the authority to do that and what impact that would have," Biden told reporters in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, while quickly taking questions during a bike ride near his home.

A public health emergency regarding abortion has been supported by members of Biden's own party as well as abortion rights advocates.

The Women's March, which helped organize a "Summer of Rage" in response to the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe -- which was widely praised by conservatives -- has argued such a move would allow the administration to "utilize additional flexibilities, deploy resources where necessary, and act with the urgency that this moment requires."

Broadly speaking, a public health emergency is made in the cases of disease outbreak or other health crises and unlocks certain government powers and funding sources.

Biden told reporters on Sunday he recognized he had limited executive powers to go further in supporting abortion access, saying, “I don’t have the authority” to reinstate Roe. He reiterated that he wanted Congress to pass a federal law codifying Roe after the Supreme Court reversed the landmark 1973 ruling and said there was no constitutional guarantee to an abortion.

As for his message to the thousands of people who gathered outside the White House on Saturday, pressuring him to do more to protect abortion rights, he said, "Keep protesting. Keep making your point. It’s critically important."

"We can do a lot of things to accommodate the rights of women. In the meantime, fundamentally, the only way to change this is to have a national law that reinstates Roe v Wade," he said.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks to members of the media as he goes on a bike ride in Gordons Pond State Park in Rehoboth Beach, Del., July 10, 2022.
President Joe Biden speaks to members of the media as he goes on a bike ride in Gordons Pond State Park in Rehoboth Beach, Del., July 10, 2022.
Andrew Harnik/AP

The prospects of that are dim in the narrowly divided Senate, where Democrats do not have enough votes to either overcome a Republican filibuster on the issue or approve an exception to the filibuster rule, which is opposed by moderates Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

Biden on Friday signed an executive order aimed at supporting access to abortion despite efforts in dozens of states to outlaw or severely restrict it.

Speaking from the White House alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Biden urged women, specifically, to practice their "political power" by voting in November, saying it was the "fastest way" to reverse the high court's ruling by giving congressional Democrats the majorities they need to the codify Roe.

In the weeks since a five-justice majority on the court rejected Roe -- which has long been a goal of Republicans and conservatives who oppose abortion -- Biden has faced criticism from other Democrats and from progressives who say he should be acting more aggressively.

"I want President Biden to do absolutely everything in his power to protect access to abortion in America—let's really push the envelope to protect women in this country, and let's do it now," Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health Education and Labor, told ABC News in a written statement last month, adding that she understood that there were limits to his authority.

Biden's executive order largely finalized what had already been announced by his administration, including instructions to the Justice Department to make sure women can travel out-of-state for abortion care.

PHOTO: Activists put bras on the fence of the White House during a protest in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision, in Washington, July 9, 2022.
Activists put bras on the fence of the White House during a protest in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision, in Washington, July 9, 2022.
Michael Mccoy/Reuters

The order addressed the elevated risks for patients, providers and clinics by focusing on protecting mobile clinics that have been deployed to state borders to offer care for out-of-state patients.

Biden's action, the White House said, also directed Attorney General Merrick Garland and the White House counsel to convene volunteer lawyers and organizations to "encourage robust legal representation of patients, providers, and third parties lawfully seeking or offering reproductive health care services throughout the country."

Biden has said he'll provide leave for federal workers traveling for medical care, which could set an example for private companies to do the same.

ABC News' Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.

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