Leading Democrats in Washington are ratcheting up their criticisms of Texas’ restrictive abortion law — and the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court that allowed it to go into effect this week.
President Joe Biden tore into the court order, which was issued shortly before midnight Wednesday, as “an unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights” and warned of “unconstitutional chaos” as a result.
“For the majority to do this 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 in a statement.
Biden also said that he is directing the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department to explore additional avenues to safeguard abortion access in Texas. Attorney General Merrick Garland said his department is “deeply concerned” about the law, also known by its bill number, SB8.
“We are evaluating all options to protect the constitutional rights of women, including access to an abortion,” Garland said in a statement.
Thursday’s outcry builds on the Biden administration’s promise this week to act to defend abortion rights in the United States, though it remains unclear what specifically it can, or intends to, do toward that end. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration’s aim is to “look for every resource, every lever at our disposal to ensure women in Texas have the ability to seek health care.”
She also took issue with a male reporter who repeatedly questioned how Biden’s public position on abortion comports with his Catholic faith, at one point replying, “I know you’ve never faced those choices, nor have you ever been pregnant.”
“But for women out there who have faced those choices this is an incredibly difficult thing. The president believes that right should be respected,” she continued.
The new law prohibits abortions after six weeks of pregnancy — a point at which many women may not realize they are pregnant — and deputizes private citizens to enforce the law by empowering them to bring lawsuits against health providers or anyone who assists someone in obtaining an abortion after that point.
In its unsigned order, the court’s majority said the legal questions raised by SB8’s unique enforcement mechanism did not rise to the legal standard required to block the law. The courts have not yet ruled on the underlying constitutionality of Texas’ law.
“The applicants now before us have raised serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law at issue. But their application also presents complex and novel antecedent procedural questions on which they have not carried their burden,” the order said.
Chief Justice John Roberts and all three of the court’s liberal justices each issued separate dissenting opinions in response to the court’s decision — an extraordinarily unusual move for a case on the court’s so-called shadow docket. Roberts said Texas’ law is “not only unusual, but unprecedented” and could create “a model” for other states to follow.
However, abortion rights proponents and Democrats were far less reserved in their critiques of the Supreme Court’s ruling. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tarred it as a “cowardly, dark-of-night decision” and vowed that the Democratic majority will bring the Women’s Health Protection Act for a floor vote when the House returns from recess.
“SB8 delivers catastrophe to women in Texas, particularly women of color and women from low-income communities,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, slammed the Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday, calling the “unprecedented” Texas law a “medical crisis for women.”
“They basically created bounty hunters. They put it on individual citizens to report these cases if after basically six weeks, a woman seeks an abortion,” Klobuchar said on CNN. “Not even as the law requires, not even an exemption if it affects a woman’s health, if it affects a woman’s life. It is an outrageous decision, which is why you saw these strong reactions in the dissent.”
Klobuchar said it’s on Congress to pass a law codifying Roe v. Wade. Klobuchar didn’t say whether or not she believed Democrats would have the votes for such legislation but reupped her belief that the filibuster should be abolished in order to make progress on legislative priorities.
Even prior to the court’s recent action, the issue of abortion had reemerged to the front of the national political consciousness. Democrats and their allies had been highlighting abortion access as part of their ongoing effort to save California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall vote later this month.
But that emphasis has been supercharged in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s actions this week in other high-profile political races, such as Virginia’s gubernatorial contest in which Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe told POLITICO it is likely to be “a huge motivator for individuals to come out and vote.”
Abortion has long been an animating issue for social conservatives, and Texas Republicans have shown no sign of backing away from the controversial new law. Gov. Greg Abbott, who is up for reelection next year, downplayed the prospect of corporate blowback in response to the abortion restrictions.
“This is not slowing down businesses coming to the state of Texas at all,” Abbott said in a CNBC interview Thursday morning. “In fact, it is accelerating the process of businesses coming to Texas … they are leaving the very liberal state of California.”
The court ruling allowing the law to take force also drew a rebuke from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate who supports abortion rights. She also condemned the Texas legislation as “extreme and harmful.”
“I oppose the Court’s decision to allow the law to remain in effect for now while these underlying constitutional and procedural questions are litigated,” Collins said in a statement.