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Abortion rights advocates protest in Colorado

Abortion rights activists protest in front of the Colorado State Capital after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022. (Photo: Jason Connolly/AFP via Getty Images)

'Good. Now Declare It,' Says Pressley as Biden Mulls Health Emergency for Abortion Rights

"This is a public health emergency," Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley said of the right-wing assault on abortion care.

Jake Johnson

President Joe Biden confirmed Sunday that his administration is considering declaring a public health emergency to help protect abortion access as Republican-led states—unleashed by the U.S. Supreme Court—move swiftly to ban the procedure outright.

Speaking to reporters, Biden said a public health emergency declaration is a step he's asked "the medical people in the administration to look at." Specifically, the president said he requested guidance on whether he has "the authority to do that and what impact that would have."

"This is the moment to be bold and innovative. People need to see that they're doing something, not just rejecting every idea that's put in front of them."

"Good," responded Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), one of nearly two dozen Democratic lawmakers calling on the president to take the step, which proponents say would free up key federal resources and authorities needed for an all-of-government response to the right-wing assault on abortion care.

"Now declare it," Pressley added.

Biden's remarks came on the heels of Bloomberg reporting from just days earlier indicating that the administration had considered and "set aside" the idea of declaring a public health emergency over the erosion of abortion rights, concluding that "the impact wouldn't justify an inevitable legal battle."

That calculation angered abortion rights advocates who argue the Biden administration should be doing everything in its power to shield abortion access as state-level GOP lawmakers push ahead with total abortion bans, no longer constrained by the constitutional protections afforded under the newly struck-down Roe v. Wade decision.

"The president is actively choosing inaction," tweeted Renee Bracey Sherman, executive director of We Testify, a group that represents people who have had abortions. "This is the moment to be bold and innovative. People need to see that they're doing something, not just rejecting every idea that's put in front of them."

On Friday, Biden signed an executive order directing federal health agencies to take steps to shore up access to medication abortion and emergency contraception in states where Republican lawmakers are activating draconian abortion bans, including dormant laws dating back to the 1800s.

While progressive lawmakers and rights organizations welcomed the order as a positive first step, they urged the administration to go further as the White House resists more sweeping action and dismisses those demanding it as fringe activists.

But demands for a public health emergency declaration are hardly emanating solely from outside the mainstream of the Democratic Party.

In an op-ed for The New York Times a day after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) implored Biden to "declare a public health emergency to protect abortion access for all Americans, unlocking critical resources and authority that states and the federal government can use to meet the surge in demand for reproductive health services."

"The danger is real," the senators wrote, "and Democrats must meet it with the urgency it deserves."

Hours before the Supreme Court's decision, a group of Black Democratic congresswomen led by Pressley sent a letter calling on the White House to "use any and all executive authorities to address the public health crisis our nation will face if Roe v. Wade is dismantled."

"Declaring a public health emergency and national emergency will allow your administration to utilize additional flexibilities and deploy resources where necessary," the letter reads. "In this unprecedented moment, we must act urgently as if lives depend on it because they do."

Pressley doubled down on that call Sunday.

"This is a public health emergency," she wrote on Twitter. "Declare it."

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