Jen Psaki announces Joe Biden’s plan to protect Roe v. Wade

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki pauses for a moment as she addresses reporters on Thursday, April 15, 2021, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki Photo: White House

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that President Joe Biden is calling on Congress to pass legislation to protect the right to an abortion.

“Our focus, and the president’s focus, is – to reiterate – our deep commitment to the constitutional right, of course, established by Roe v. Wade nearly five decades ago, and to continue to call for the codification of Roe, something that the president talked about on the campaign trail, the vice president talked about on the campaign trail,” Psaki said at a press briefing yesterday when asked what Biden is going to do about S.B. 8 in Texas.  “This highlights even further the need to move forward on that.”

Related: Jen Psaki shuts down Fox News’ transphobic question with “Trans rights are human rights”

In May, the state of Texas passed a near-total ban on abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy, well before fetal viability, the line established by the Supreme Court in several landmark decisions last century. The vast majority of abortions occur after the sixth week of pregnancy and many people don’t even know that they’re pregnant that early.

The law, S.B. 8, allows anyone in the state (besides state officials) to sue anyone they think aided in the procurement of an abortion for a bounty of $10,000. The law was written this way to evade litigation by creating a technical, legal question to answer: who can be sued to overturn this law? Usually, the state official in charge of enforcing a law gets sued by those challenging it, but all private citizens of a state can’t be sued.

A five-judge majority on the Supreme Court fell for Texas’s trap – the three liberal justices and Justice John Roberts dissented – and said that that technical question of who can be sued means they can’t issue an injunction and the law went into effect yesterday, even though it violates clear Supreme Court precedent protecting the right to an abortion before fetal viability. Abortion clinics in Texas have already stopped performing abortions after the sixth week.

Psaki and the White House, though, aren’t caught up in the technical question and got right to the point. She read from a statement from Biden that called S.B. 8 “extreme” and said it “blatantly violates the constitutional right” to an abortion. She said it denies women health care and will particularly hurt low-income women and women of color. She also called the law out because it “deputizes citizens” to turn each other in, even people who have no real connection to the abortion, like a taxi driver who drove someone to a clinic, all to get $10,000.

Psaki said that the White House wants Congress to pass a law protecting the rights established in Roe in the face of a Supreme Court that doesn’t seem concerned with enforcing its own precedents. But Congressional Democrats warned that such a bill could fall victim to the filibuster, which has been killing many major administration initiatives, including a major bill to protect voting rights and the Equality Act, which would codify anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

“It’s important for the White House to weigh in… we really are going to need their help to get the votes on the Senate side,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), who introduced a bill in the House to protect access to abortion. “We will need to have all resources available but especially the most powerful voice in land, and that is our President Biden to weigh in on this.”

Currently, there are 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans in the Senate, but the filibuster rules require 60 votes to allow a vote on a bill. Under these rules, at least 10 Republican senators have to effectively vote for a bill in order for it to pass, which is unlikely on a bill about abortion, an issue the GOP has long used to get votes.

Out Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has been a major stumbling block to Biden’s agenda and LGBTQ rights by refusing to kill the filibuster procedure. The maneuver has historically been used to try to stop passage of civil rights legislation.

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