Attorney General Merrick Garland headlined an event at the White House on Friday bringing together pro bono attorneys, bar associations and public interest groups to discuss how best to provide legal services and protections to women wishing to abort.
The effort is part of an executive order signed by President Joe Biden earlier this month aimed at protecting abortion access after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to process.
The attorneys will work to “encourage strong legal representation for those seeking reproductive care services,” the White House said in announcing the event. Garland was accompanied by White House Counsel Stuart Delery and Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. A public program from second gentleman Doug Emhoff, himself a lawyer, showed he was to join the event later.
“It has now been 35 days since the Supreme Court struck down Roe and Casey, eliminating a fundamental constitutional right that had been central to the freedom and equality of women in the United States for half a century,” Garland said. “That day, I know we all feared what was to come. And what happened in the days that followed confirmed these fears.
Among the issues the White House said would be discussed were travel for abortions, what to do when women are denied the procedure and the criminalization of the practice.
Biden has said he cannot single-handedly restore access to abortion nationwide. He called on voters to elect enough Democrats to Congress this fall who could then vote to codify Roe v. Wade. But his administration has come under significant pressure from advocacy groups to use its executive powers, including declaring a public health emergency over abortion.
“The decision’s impact on life as a people across our country was immediate, far-reaching and devastating,” Garland said. “Over the past month, states across our nation have taken steps to impose abortion bans and other access restrictions. In states with the most severe restrictions. There is no longer a single clinic offering abortions.
Delery said the session would allow lawyers to “think hard” about how they might use “our unique tools to pursue reproductive freedom” in the wake of the High Court’s decision in the abortion case. Mississippi, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
“Before we can fight, we have to listen – listen to those who have worked closely with women who have suffered and will suffer because of the Dobbs decision, listen to medical professionals who provide reproductive care during great lives personal and professional, and listen to lawyers who have already been on the front lines of this battle for decades,” he said.
Also on Friday, Biden said he would appoint to a federal appeals court the abortion rights lawyer who argued unsuccessfully for Roe’s preservation in the Supreme Court.
Julie Rikelman, an attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, is Biden’s pick to take a seat on the Boston-based 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals. Rikelman, a Harvard graduate, is originally from Kyiv, Ukraine, from where she emigrated with her family in 1979.
During his presentation to the High Court in December, Rikelman told judges that “removing or reducing the right to abortion will set women back. Two generations have availed themselves of this right and one woman in four makes the decision to terminate a pregnancy.
Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.
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