Before Democrat Tina Smith ran for Senate, she volunteered at a Planned Parenthood clinic in her home state of Minnesota, where protesters confronted women as they entered.
Experience is on your mind this Sunday, the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the nation’s right to abortion until it was overturned last year.
“It seems like such an empty day,” she said.
The White House is trying to replace that feeling of emptiness with outrage and determination this weekend, demonstrating determination to restore abortion rights even though there is little chance of progress in Washington.
Vice President Kamala Harris is leading the effort with a speech in Florida, where Democrats fear another attempt to restrict abortion by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.
“America is the land of the free and the home of the brave,” Harris plans to say, according to excerpts from his speech. “But let us ask: can we be truly free if a woman cannot make decisions about her own body? Can we be truly free if a doctor cannot care for his patients? Can we be truly free if families cannot make intimate decisions about the course of their own lives?”
Harris’ decision to speak in Tallahassee, the state capital, reflects how the battle lines have shifted since last summer. Now that there is no longer a national right to abortion, debates on the issue will take place in each of the state legislatures, not in the halls of Congress or before the Supreme Court. White House officials last week brought together top lawmakers from eight states to discuss pending legislation.
Furthermore, after performing better than expected in the November elections, Democrats see abortion as a key issue for their party in 2024, when control of the White House and both chambers of Congress will be up for grabs at the same time. . DeSantis could seek the Republican presidential nomination, the first step in challenging President Joe Biden, who has been gearing up for a re-election campaign.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Florida is critical because its abortion rules are less restrictive than those of its neighbors, making it a relatively safe haven for women in the region who are trying to stop abortion. pregnancy. But further restrictions may be considered by the Republican-controlled state government.
DeSantis’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who has worked with Biden, said the White House strategy on abortion had three goals.
“You can create an atmosphere and put pressure on these states to make it harder to pass draconian restrictions,” she said. Also, Lake said, “you can set the contrast to 2024” and “you can use that as a key motivator for people to vote.”
Democrats concluded that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade reshaped the political landscape for last year’s election, rejuvenating the party’s chances when analysts expected a Republican defeat.
Democrats have still lost control of the House and extended their majority in the Senate by just one vote, meaning legislation that would create a national abortion right remains out of reach.
There are concerns that Biden and his administration have exhausted their executive stock options.
The Food and Drug Administration announced this month that abortion pills would become more widely available in pharmacies and by mail. Pills can also be obtained through a virtual consultation instead of going to a doctor’s office.
A legal battle is raging in a Texas federal court, where abortion opponents have filed a lawsuit to overturn the drugs’ decades-long approval.
“The government is really looking at existing federal law and trying to leverage it,” said Lawrence Gostin, who directs the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health at Georgetown Law.
Not all the government’s ideas worked. Biden announced last year that states could apply for exemptions to use Medicaid dollars to pay for women’s travel for abortions. No waiver has been requested.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra declined to say why he thinks states have not accepted the government’s offer.
“I’ll let you talk to the different states,” he said on Thursday. “We made the offer and continue to challenge people to find ways to ensure no one loses access to healthcare.”
Becerra was in Minnesota, where Democratic leaders were finalizing legislation to codify abortion rights into state law.
“We will continue to work with states like Minnesota who want to do whatever is necessary to incorporate into our laws the protections that forever prevent any American from losing access to health care,” Becerra said during an event with the Democratic governor. Tim Walz and lawmakers.
In every state, the fight to protect access to abortion is taking place in the courts, with active litigation against abortion restrictions in 14 states, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The nonprofit health organization found that advocates generally take one of three approaches to raising legal challenges against abortion laws, claiming the laws violate state constitutional protections, infringe on some states’ guaranteed rights to make choices of care health care or block religious freedoms.
It’s unclear which legal arguments might be most successful, with the highest courts in states deciding how affordable abortion is. Meanwhile, abortion opponents are looking for ways to use the courts to further restrict abortion.
Renee Bracey Sherman, founder and executive director of the group We Testify, which advocates for women who have had abortions, said she was disappointed that Biden did not do more.
“The fact that he is missing during this public health emergency is really embarrassing,” she said.
Smith, the Minnesota senator, joined Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., last year in urging Biden to formally declare a public health emergency.
Biden never did, but Smith said she was satisfied with the measures he gave.
“I would be hard-pressed to point out something they didn’t do that they could have done in a public health emergency,” she said.
Associated Press writer Steve Karnowski in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Amanda Seitz contributed to this report.