Declare a National Emergency to deal with the abortion rights catastrophe!
People demonstrate for abortion rights outside the White House. | Jose Luis Magana/AP

WASHINGTON—In the wake of protests from coast to coast, and peaceful civil disobedience—including arrests in front of the White House—pro-abortion activists say Democratic President Joe Biden can and should do a lot more to protect their rights and even their literal safety against anti-abortionists.

That demand occurs even as they praise Biden’s executive order that attempts to establish some protection for abortion seekers.

And if the five Supreme Court right-wingers throw out Biden’s pro-abortion moves later—as right-wing judges tossed his other federal mandates, especially on coronavirus protections—it is not a reason to abstain from a maximum fightback now. The group’s unstated subtext: The political point must be made of who’s protecting women’s health care rights and who isn’t.

The abortion rights supporters are proposing measures including declaration of a national health emergency, killing the Senate filibuster, and expanding the court to overcome the five anti-abortion justices: Samuel Alito, who wrote the ruling, Clarence Thomas, and Trumpite Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh. They also include having the House codify related endangered rights including access to contraception, same sex marriage, and privacy rights so Republicans opposed to these things will be on record for their opposition, making it easier for progressive forces to campaign against them in the elections.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is pushing court expansion, saying Congress has changed the number of justices seven times in U.S. history, by simple legislation, and can do so again. In rare agreement, both Our Revolution, founded by Bernie Sanders supporters after his 2016 presidential bid and Democracy for America, successor to Obama for America and a more “establishment” organization, agree with her.

But two key developments were lost in the anger over the court majority’s ruling in the case that pitted heavily gerrymandered and rightwing-ruled Mississippi’s sole remaining abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Services, against the Magnolia State’s draconian anti-abortion law.

One was the fact that the most senior of the five Republican justices, Justice Thomas, also wants to put gay marriage, LGBTQ rights, and even contraception under the gun. The organizations that rang many of the loudest alarm bells about Thomas’s additional concurrence to the main anti-abortion ruling were gay rights groups.

“Nothing is safe from this radical conservative majority,” warned Pride@Work, the AFL-CIO’s constituency group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people.

The other was the Mississippi clinic closed its doors on July 6. Women there will now have to join pregnant people in traveling hundreds of miles to seek abortions if they can—and could risk arrest in doing so.

The Women’s March led the mass protest in front of the White House on July 9 and also launched a “Summer of Rage” against both the justices and Biden’s failure to take stronger action. Another protest, in front of the court, by other groups, was milder.

The Women’s March demanded federal legislation to legalize abortion rights, more access to clinics, including on federal lands such as military bases, providing more early abortion-inducing pills, and protection for women who must travel to find abortion services.

Their peaceful protest drew a “they’re out of the (Democratic) mainstream” rebuke from Biden’s press office, but the president himself quickly reversed it. Then he watered down his reversal by leaving the decision up to the deadlocked and bitterly split Congress—and until lawmakers act, the states.

“Keep protesting,” Biden told demonstrators via a July 10 press gaggle. “Keep making your point.  It’s critically important. We can do a lot of things to accommodate the rights of women in the meantime. But, fundamentally, the only thing that’s going to change this is if we have a national law that reinstates Roe v. Wade,” the court’s 1973 ruling abortion is a constitutional right. “That’s the bottom line.

“Everything else, we can get pieces of it, and I’m trying to do that” with the executive order. One piece: Protecting travelers to clinics.

“But as president, I don’t have the authority to say that we’re going to, you know, instate Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. The only way we do that is through an election in (he meant “to”) the United States Congress. In the meantime, states can make those judgments.” That statement leaves the door open for rightist Republican-run legislatures—the latest is in Pennsylvania—to enact absolute abortion bans.

Talking about a National Emergency

Biden also said he’s talking with his medical advisors about declaring a national emergency covering abortion rights, which could let him take further executive action. He did not specify what it would be.

Biden’s lack of a really forceful action, and passion, left leaders of the marchers disappointed.

“The president cannot be annoyed that people are demanding he act during a moment of severe crisis,” said Women’s March Executive Director Rachel O’Leary Carmona. “Punching down at activists won’t change one simple fact: The president has power, and he cannot be afraid to use every last bit of it.

“We activists raised our voices and put our bodies on the line to demonstrate how committed we are to building an America that’s a more perfect version of itself–one where women can thrive and lead the lives they want to lead. Will the president join us, or will he use his influential platform to scold a vast grassroots army of citizens pushing a wildly popular agenda who dare to believe that better is possible?

“The choice is his.”

Added Shaunna Thomas, Executive Director of UltraViolet: “He (Biden) needs to declare a public health emergency around abortion yesterday. Instead, they (the White House) are spending their time attacking the very activists who are out in the streets fighting for our rights and freedoms. We were promised a ‘whole government’ response, and we need it now.

“The administration needs to bring the rhetorical heat where it belongs: To the anti-abortion, extremist Republicans and their enablers who are effectively relegating women to second-class citizenship–and the policy heat where we need it: In states where millions, right now, are being threatened with forced pregnancies and criminalization.”

Eighteen other groups demanded an immediate formal meeting with Biden in a July 8 letter “to discuss implementation” of his executive order backing abortion rights “and other strategies for addressing and mitigating the harm of the Supreme Court’s decision.

“With the Supreme Court’s greenlight, state lawmakers are decimating abortion access,” they warned.

“The impact…on reproductive health access will disproportionately impact Black women, other women of color, and vulnerable women. Our shared mission includes the goal of protecting the constitutional rights of all, and so we stand united in this moment as we face a national public health crisis and attack on our basic freedoms.”

The 18 groups include the National Council of Negro Women, Planned Parenthood, the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), the National Women’s Law Center, the Urban League, and the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

Pride@Work expanded on its alarm bell about Justice Thomas’s witch-hunt against gay marriage, gay rights, and even the right to contraception.

“The extremist majority on the court is willing to overlook decades of precedent to set aside the right to choose, and clearly shows where their future intentions lie,” Pride@Work said. “Obergefell, which legalized marriage equality nationwide, which was only decided less than a decade ago, is clearly in the crosshairs.

“Even more concerning is the possibility of overturning Lawrence v. Texas, which banned draconian sodomy laws nationwide. Fifteen states have refused to repeal their sodomy laws since that decision in 2003. Justice Thomas directly referenced that these two decisions protecting LGBTQ+ rights should be overturned in his opinion. We must fight back now.”

Three proposed resolutions listed for the Teachers (AFT) convention in Boston, July 14-18, sound the same themes and go even further. The one from the union’s Executive Council puts AFT on record campaigning for “reproductive freedom at the state and federal levels via codification and executive action of Roe v. Wade,” plus a ban on criminalizing women and those who aid them in getting abortions.

Take aim at the Supreme Court majority

AFT Local 1078 in Berkeley, Calif., echoes those points but also takes dead aim at the Supreme Court majority, especially the three Trumpite justices. It demands lawmakers either expand the court or impeach the three for going “against their sworn testimony” to overturn Roe. Local 1078 also demands an end to the filibuster, which it says, correctly, “maintains Jim Crow and blocks progressive legislation.

“Electoralism alone cannot provide a solution to this crisis,” Local 1078 warns. “Even if the Democrats pass state or federal legislation to uphold abortion rights, those laws will be challenged by the Trump movement and inevitably brought before this Supreme Court.

‘The Supreme Court is thoroughly compromised,” the Berkeley local declares. “The three Trump justices constitute an ongoing far-right-wing coup inside the nation’s highest judicial body, and clearly intend to use their undemocratic power to overturn progressive legislation for decades to come.”

Local 1078 adds “the Trump movement aims to create an American government completely subservient to the interests of a section of America’s giant corporations and wealthiest individuals, without any meaningful constitutional or democratic restraints on the use of governmental power to serve their purposes.

“The new civil rights and labor movement can defeat these attacks through mobilizing our members and supporters to take mass action across the country to maintain Roe v. Wade and defend women and all Americans from this fundamental attack on civil and human rights.”

Thomas’s threat to contraception is particularly important, too, as the overwhelming majority of abortions in recent decades have been via pills and in the first trimester. The anti-abortionists want to outlaw the pills, too. The High Court OKd the right to contraceptive pills, based on privacy, in 1965.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., promised that as Congress returns from its July 4 recess, lawmakers there will again approve the Women’s Health Protection Act, plus legislation protecting the right to travel to other states to seek abortions. And WHPA protects the right to the pills.

The House passed the WHPA last year 218-211 with Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, joining all 210 Republicans in voting “no.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., twice marshaled his phalanx of Republicans in the evenly tied chamber to vote down even debating the measure. So Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., reintroduced it on July 7. Her bill, HR8296, will come up soon, Pelosi promised.

“We have a sacred, fundamental duty to expand freedom in America, not to roll back fundamental rights,” said Pelosi. “While Republicans seek to criminalize reproductive health care nationwide, House Democrats will never relent in our fight to defend freedom for women and for every American.”

Meanwhile, voters in five states, so far—California, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, and Vermont—will cast ballots this fall on abortion initiatives, split between pro (California, Vermont) and anti (the others). Michigan will join the “pro” side if petitioners for a proposed state constitutional amendment codifying the right to abortion turn in 452,029 valid signatures from around the entire state by a July 11 deadline.

But in an indication of how fast the anti-abortionists are moving into the states, NARAL also put out an emergency petition telling its members in Pennsylvania to contact their state representatives now, urging them to defeat a State Senate-passed constitutional amendment banning abortion. Republicans control both houses of the GOP-gerrymandered legislature.

“At the 11th hour, Republican lawmakers in the Pennsylvania Senate cleared the way to advance a bill that proposes a constitutional amendment to deny the right to abortion under the state constitution–and today they passed the bill through the Senate.

“The Pennsylvania House of Representatives—also under Republican control—could take the bill up at any moment. We have to speak out now and make sure our lawmakers stop this bill from advancing any further. Contact your state representative TODAY to urge them to vote NO on the anti-choice constitutional amendment!” NARAL urged.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.