Cheered by a win in Kansas, where voters decisively rejected an abortion ban, and eyeing November midterms, the White House is promoting a new three-fold strategy to protect abortion rights, sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters, and it uses a different approach – reaching out to men.
In the new playbook, which has not been previously reported, the Biden administration will lean on two specific federal statutes to sharpen its federal litigation tactics against states that limit abortion; collect data and research on how the restrictions impact women and communicate that to voters; and come up with a consistent messaging plan about how forced pregnancies negatively affect both women and men.
Senior White House officials, advisers and abortion rights advocates have held multiple wide-ranging strategy and engagement calls in recent days, including an Aug. 4 call with nearly 2,000 participants, to hear the administration's plans, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private meetings.
Abortion rights advocates have criticized President Joe Biden's administration in the past for being slow to act around a Supreme Court ruling in June that ended the constitutional right to abortion. In recent days, the White House has invested new energy in the issue, they said. Two executive orders along with constant engagement with key stakeholders led by Vice President Kamala Harris, has assuaged some concerns, they added.
The White House is "really going all the way in trying to promote their message on the issue of abortion in the midterms," said Lawrence Gostin, faculty director of Georgetown University's Institute for National and Global Health Law, who has been working with the White House. "They are hoping this will play well among suburban women and that was Biden's edge in the presidential election."
A senior White House official said that the administration thinks the issue could get Democrats support from many Republican voters during the midterms.
The Biden administration plans to lean on two specific federal statutes, which predated the abortion ruling, to fight its legal challenges - the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) and FDA preemption under the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act (FDCA), the sources said.
EMTALA requires hospitals that accept Medicare funds to provide medical treatment to people that arrive with an emergency medical condition. That includes providing a woman an abortion if her life is in danger.
This law is the backbone of the U.S. Department of Justice's lawsuit against the state of Idaho, but may be hard to enforce, some legal experts say.
The FDA preemption argues states cannot ban an approved abortion drug because federal law preempts or overrides state law. More than 30 states have enacted legislation that restricts access to medication.
Mini Timmaraju, president, NARAL Pro-Choice America, who also is working with the White House on the issue, said the litigation strategy is key.
"It's not just executive orders and policies, it's enforcement," she said.
The White House is also crafting plans to replicate the success in Kansas for upcoming races, said the sources. It is closely tracking ballot initiatives in California, Kentucky, Michigan, and Vermont and gubernatorial races like Michigan's, where abortion has become a central issue, sources said.
Kentucky is one that is witnessing a surge of interest along with California, NARAL'S Timmaraju said.
The White House is compiling research on the physical and mental harms women face if they're denied access to abortion, as well as the economic impact that forced pregnancies can have on men, women, and families; and plans to communicate that to voters and come up with a consistent messaging plan, sources said.
It will also target men in its messaging, asking them to consider how their sisters, nieces, cousins could be affected if abortions were unavailable, and the costs related to supporting an unplanned pregnancy, in an effort to broaden understanding, the sources said.
In 2020, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that women who are forced to have an unwanted baby face medical costs associated with prenatal care, birth, postpartum recovery in addition to costs associated with raising a child that exceed $9,000 a year.
Another message will be aimed at religious Americans, telling them they don't have to change their faith to support abortion rights, they just need to resist government overreach, they said.
"The idea is to be much more disciplined and consistent in messaging to break through to the everyday American, which many rightfully believe is not happening as effectively," said one of the sources.
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