President Joe Biden directed his administration Thursday to take steps to combat Texas’ law banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected—the most extreme abortion restrictions imposed in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade—after the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court let the law stand late Wednesday night in a 5-4 ruling.
Biden slammed the Supreme Court’s ruling as an “unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights under Roe v. Wade,” the landmark 1973 ruling that enshrined the right to an abortion, and said in a statement the decision “unleashes unconstitutional chaos.”
The president called for an “immediate response” to the law and directed his administration’s Gender Policy Council and the Office of the White House Counsel to “launch a whole-of-government effort” to take action to counteract the Texas law.
The effort will specifically look at what steps the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice can take to provide abortion access to Texans and what “legal tools” can be used to fight against the law.
The Supreme Court declining to strike down the law “without a hearing, without the benefit of an opinion from a court below, and without due consideration of the issues, insults the rule of law and the rights of all Americans to seek redress from our courts,” Biden said. “Rather than use its supreme authority to ensure justice could be fairly sought, the highest Court of our land will allow millions of women in Texas in need of critical reproductive care to suffer while courts sift through procedural complexities.”
Texas’ abortion law, known as Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), prohibits all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected—typically around six weeks into a pregnancy—except in cases of medical emergencies. Unlike other states’ abortion bans that have been struck down by the courts, SB 8 attempts to avoid legal scrutiny by putting the onus on private citizens to enforce the law rather than government officials. The law stipulates citizens can bring lawsuits against anyone that “aids and abets” an abortion and recover at least $10,000 in damages if they’re successful. After abortion advocacy groups asked the Supreme Court to strike down the law while litigation against it played out, the court ruled it was too soon to do so, but did not rule on the actual constitutionality of the law itself and said legal challenges against the law can still be brought in the future. In a dissent joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the justices in the majority had “opted to bury their heads in the sand” by upholding the “flagrantly unconstitutional law.”
85%. That’s the percentage of abortions in Texas that are expected to now be banned under SB 8, the abortion advocacy groups said in their petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. Abortion providers in Texas told reporters Wednesday they are remaining open for abortions before a fetal heartbeat is detected that comply with the law, but there are concerns the law could put a severe strain on them or force some to close due to the expected flood of costly litigation from private citizens. The law is also expected to severely restrict abortion access for Texans, with the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute finding Texans seeking abortions will now have to travel approximately 20 times as far to obtain one as they did before SB 8 took effect, with an average distance of 248 miles one way.
In addition to the White House, Congress has also vowed to take steps to combat Texas’ abortion ban. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement the chamber would take up the Women’s Health Protection Act when it returns from its August recess, which would enshrine the right to an abortion into federal law. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said before the Supreme Court’s ruling Democrats would “fight against SB 8 and for Roe v. Wade,” but has not promised any specific actions yet.