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June 27, 2022

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Biden’s promise to codify Roe v. Wade into law unlikely to be fulfilled

President is under pressure to preserve access to abortion, but he has no good options to do it

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President Joe Biden walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, May 6, 2022, in Washington.
President Joe Biden walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, May 6, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Photo Gallery

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s list of impossible tasks keeps getting longer.

Despite lofty promises he’s made, from the campaign trail through his first year in office, he has limited power to safeguard voting rights or expand the fight against climate change on his own.

And now it’s become clear that Biden has no good options for preserving abortion access as the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.

It’s a disorienting and discouraging state of affairs for Democrats, who control both Congress and the White House for the first time in more than a decade.

But the party holds only the narrowest of majorities in the Senate, and there simply aren’t enough votes to guarantee abortion rights, especially with the filibuster in place.

Biden’s pledge to codify Roe v. Wade into law seems destined for the same rocky shoals where other parts of his agenda, like tax credits for clean energy or legislation that would preempt state voting restrictions, have already run aground.

A succinct explanation came from Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., last week: “We’re stuck,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has scheduled a vote on abortion for Wednesday, but it’s almost certain to fail. Republicans are united in opposition, and a handful of Democrats may not support it either.

The impasse is forcing the White House to reopen its backup playbook — scrounging for ways to make a difference through executive action or regulatory steps while criticizing Republicans for the lack of broader action.

“The White House is under enormous pressure to be more forceful and vocal,” said Lawrence Gostin, who runs the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health at Georgetown Law.

But Gostin, who is advising administration officials on their next steps, said, “Biden needs to stick with winnable battles” by focusing on “low-hanging fruit.”

One of those ideas involves making abortion medication more accessible by mail. The Food and Drug Administration has already eliminated the requirement to pick up the pills in person, and Gostin said the practice will need an aggressive defense as it faces conservative attacks.

Another concept, Gostin said, would be allowing Medicaid to pay for travel if a woman can’t get an abortion in her own state. Such a plan might run afoul of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortions, so it would require careful wording.

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