President Joe Biden said Friday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the constitutional right to abortion represents a “sad day” that will deny the nation’s women control of their own destiny.
“This is a sad day for the court and for the country,” Biden said in a White House speech.
In overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that protected abortion rights, he said, “it makes it abundantly clear that the health and lives of the women of this nation are now in jeopardy.”
Roe v. Wade, she argued, “reaffirmed the basic principles of equality, that women have the power to control their own destiny.”
Biden said there is little he can do by executive order, calling on Congress to restore abortion rights with federal law and for voters to elect state legislators and leaders who protect those rights.
High-ranking White House officials, including domestic policy chief Susan Rice, gender policy council chief Jen Klein and communications adviser Kate Bedingfield, joined Biden during his speech.
On Friday, the court took the dramatic step of overturning the ruling that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to abortion and made it legal across the country, handing a momentous victory to Republicans and religious conservatives who want to limit or ban the procedure.
The court’s ruling was issued shortly after 10 a.m. Eastern Time (1400 GMT) and left many White House aides scrambling to react because they expected it to happen next week. Biden’s speech was announced an hour later.
“We were preparing for this to drop next week,” a White House source said. Another source told Reuters that “nobody knew when it would happen, but preparations for the ruling were underway.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department will work “tirelessly” to protect and promote reproductive freedom.
“Today’s decision does not remove the ability of states to keep abortion legal within their borders. And the Constitution continues to restrict states’ authority to prohibit reproductive services provided outside their borders.”
Biden, a lifelong Democrat and Catholic, opposed Roe v. Wade in the early days of his career and only later embraced abortion rights. He made forceful comments after a leaked draft opinion was revealed in May, but until that point he had never said the word “abortion” out loud as president.
In May, many women’s rights advocates expressed deep frustration with the White House and Democrats in general following the leak of the draft ruling, criticizing the lack of urgency and preparation.
In recent weeks, the White House had been preparing its response and possible steps in meetings with various stakeholders, including abortion rights activists and privacy and constitutional experts.