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Biden says it is up to voters if they want to see abortion rights restored

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Hundreds have gathered outside of the Supreme Court.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: This decision will not stand.

KELLY: And we continue our coverage on this historic day, where the constitutional right to an abortion in the U.S. is no more.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The decision comes nearly 50 years after the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling...

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #1: In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court today legalized abortion...

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #2: ...Overrides most state laws concerning abortion. The court...

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #3: ...Said in a 7-2 decision that in the first three months of pregnancy...

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #4: ...Abortion is completely a private matter to be decided by mother and doctor.

CHANG: ...That established the right to an abortion in 1973. But now, whether or not abortions should be legal or illegal is up to each individual state. Scores of activists and politicians alike have pushed for this day, and many are celebrating.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) And tonight's going to be a good, good night.

KELLY: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the decision a historic victory.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: This great nation can now live up to its core principle that all are created equal, not born equal.

KELLY: Twenty-two states have laws that will or already are restricting abortion, including Missouri, where State Attorney General Eric Schmidt said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC SCHMIDT: We believe that without the explicit protections of the right to life, all liberties are under attack, which is why the importance of this day cannot be overstated.

CHANG: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton declared today a holiday for his staff in honor of, quote, "unborn babies." Kelsey Smith from Clemson, S.C., a like-minded supporter who was at the Supreme Court today, said this.

KELSEY SMITH: Very excited, very happy, very grateful. The pro-life movement wants to make abortion illegal, unthinkable and unnecessary.

KELLY: But at the White House today, a somber reaction.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It just stuns me. So I've seen that doctors will be criminalized for fulfilling their duty to care. Imagine having a young woman having to carry a child of incest, as a consequence of incest, no option.

KELLY: President Biden acknowledged there is little he can do on his own to change the situation. He says now it's up to voters if they want to see abortion rights restored.

NPR's Asma Khalid is at the White House. Hey, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: So this is not the ruling the president was hoping for. He called today a sad day. What struck you from his comments?

KHALID: You know, really, Mary Louise, there was a sense of pragmatism in what we heard from him today. He flatly said that the health of women in this nation are now more at risk. And he explicitly tied the decision to three justices who were appointed by former President Donald Trump. And he referred to the decision as the realization of a, quote, "extreme ideology." I will say, you know, by the way, Mary Louise, the former president, former President Trump, did take credit for today's ruling.

You know, when we heard from President Biden, he seemed to also emphasize that the court had never done what it did today, which in his view was to expressly take away a constitutional right that had already been recognized. You know, I got the sense from how he spoke today that he was trying to remain publicly optimistic and insist that this fight is not over, though ultimately, he also knows there's little he can do by himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

BIDEN: Let me be very clear and unambiguous. The only way we can secure a woman's right to choose, the balance that existed, is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade as federal law. No executive action from the president can do that.

KELLY: I guess the challenge there, Asma, is that Congress doesn't have the votes to restore the protection of Roe v. Wade as federal law.

KHALID: You are right. And the president himself acknowledged that. You know, essentially then, at this point then, this becomes a campaign issue for Democrats. And we did hear from President Biden today this sense of urging voters to elect people who will restore abortion rights. He explicitly said, Roe is on the ballot this fall. I think that, you know, one of the big unknowns is what this actually will mean for the November elections to date.

In polling, we've seen that rising prices, inflation have been the top concern. We also see in polling that young voters have been really disenfranchised with Joe Biden's presidency to date. And I have a, you know, question of whether or not seeing this fear, you know, seeing this right eroded will suddenly motivate them to give Democrats another chance. But really, again, Mary Louise, nobody knows how much this issue will galvanize the left.

KELLY: Well, one thing we did know was that this decision was almost certainly coming. We all saw the leaked draft decision. What had the White House done to prepare?

KHALID: Well, for the past couple of months, they had been meeting with advocates, legal experts, faith leaders, doctors, nurses. In fact, just yesterday, the vice president brought seven Democratic attorneys general together to discuss the issue.

I spoke with a couple of people who've been invited, these White House meetings. One was Reverend Najuma Smith-Pollard from California. She told me that part of the conversation that she had with the vice president was about what to do if Roe was overturned.

NAJUMA SMITH-POLLARD: We know California would be a safe place for women to come. So creating that network, that's one of those next steps - creating a network for women where women can go for safe abortion, safe procedures, so they're not at greater harm and greater risk.

KELLY: Do we know how that message was received? Is creating that kind of network something the White House wants to get involved with?

KHALID: Well, I will say it is an indication of what we heard from the president of what he wants to maintain. You know, he explicitly said today that his administration will ensure women are free to travel across state lines for an abortion. He also said that his administration will work to protect women's access to medications, as some of which are delivered by mail. But really, Mary Louise, I mean, these are all steps that the president and his White House can take that are at the margin. The biggest change is that as of today, the fundamental right to an abortion is no longer the law of the land. And the president, as he himself acknowledged, has limited power to change that at the moment.

KELLY: NPR's Asma Khalid at the White House for us today. Thanks, Asma.

KHALID: Happy to do it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
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