'Women's Equality Day' at White House focuses on abortion rights

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO - Protests during a special session debating on banning abortion, in Indianapolis

By Alexandra Alper and Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden and White House officials marked Women's Equality Day on Friday by meeting state and local leaders to discuss ways to safeguard access to abortion, amid a flurry of legal challenges led by Republicans across the United States.

Biden, Gender Policy Council co-head Jen Klein, and intergovernmental affairs director Julie Rodriguez met elected officials from Kansas, New York, Maryland, North Carolina and Delaware and a Texas judge at the White House.

"The court got Roe right for nearly 50 years," Biden said, referring to the Roe v. Wade decision that was overturned by the Supreme Court in June. "Congress in my view should codify Roe once and for all, but right now we are short a handful of votes. ... The only way that is gonna happen is if the American people make it happen in November," he said.

Democrats are increasingly hopeful that the Supreme Court decision will boost voter support in November's midterm elections, which would historically see the party lose control of one or both houses of Congress.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a report, mandated by an executive order signed by Biden, that builds on previously announced measures such as tackling medication abortion and protecting patient privacy.

HHS also issued a letter to state governors emphasizing that healthcare providers must offer abortion services if the life of a mother is at risk and that such procedures would be protected under federal law.

The White House recently launched a three-prong push to protect abortion access, first reported by Reuters, that leans on two federal statutes to target states that limit abortion, communicates to voters the impact on women, and accentuates how forced pregnancies harm both women and men.

A federal judge on Wednesday blocked Idaho from enforcing a ban on abortions when pregnant women require emergency care, a day after a judge in Texas ruled against the Biden administration on the same issue. The conflicting rulings came in two of the first lawsuits over Biden's attempts to keep abortion legal.

About half of U.S. states have or are expected to seek to ban or curtail abortions following the Supreme Court ruling.

A new Pew Research Center poll this week showed abortion rocketing up as a priority for Democratic voters — from 46 percent in March to 71 percent today.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington; editing by Richard Pullin and Jonathan Oatis)