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Biden must take stronger action on abortion, Senate Democrats say

President Biden addresses the nation Friday following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn <em>Roe v. Wade</em>.
Mandel Ngan
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden addresses the nation Friday following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

On the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, some Senate Democrats are pushing President Biden to take "immediate action" to protect abortion rights.

In a letter sent to Biden on Saturday evening, a group of 34 senators describe the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision as "an unprecedented assault on women and the result of decades of activism by Republican extremists."

The senators acknowledged Biden's remarks in response to the decision on Friday, which he called a "sad day for the court and for the country." They call on the president to take "bold action" and "use the full force of the federal government to protect access to abortion in the United States."

"You have the power to fight back and lead a national response to this devastating decision," the letter says.

In an interview with NPR on Saturday, Washington Sen. Patty Murray said she'd asked the administration to have a governmentwide plan in place on "day one," as soon as the Supreme Court issued its decision.

"We're at day two," Murray said. "We can't wait days or weeks to get action for people who today need this kind of care, are sitting in their homes scared to death, worried about their own health, worried about their own economic situation, wondering what the heck they can do. Every day that goes by is one day too many."

After a leaked draft of the opinion was published in early May, Murray and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren called on Biden to take executive action and adopt a "whole-of-government" approach to protecting abortion access.

They've asked the administration to take several specific steps that they believe are within the scope of Biden's executive powers. Some of those include looking for ways that federal agencies could expand access to medication abortion; helping with transportation vouchers and other logistical support for people traveling from places where abortion is unavailable; and using federal civil rights laws to protect private health and location data — particularly from states where patients seeking abortions may face prosecution.

"We're asking them to look in every toolbox to determine what they can do to make sure that people can get access to the care that they need," Murray told NPR.

The president's ability to intervene could be limited in part by the Hyde Amendment, a longstanding prohibition on federal funding for most abortions. Biden supports doing away with Hyde, but has been unable to get Congress on board.

Biden's attorney general, Merrick Garland, said on Friday that states cannot ban the abortion pill mifepristone. But Republican-controlled legislatures have been working to restrict access to medication abortion, including passing laws that preclude the use of telehealth to prescribe the pills.

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Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.