By Nandita Bose
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Cheered by a decisive win for abortion rights in a Kansas vote and eyeing November midterm elections, the White House is launching a push for abortion access that aims to influence men as well as women, sources with direct knowledge told Reuters.
The Biden administration’s three-prong playbook leans on two specific federal statutes to target states that limit abortion, communicates to voters the impact on women, and accentuates how forced pregnancies negatively affect both women and men.
Senior White House officials, advisers and abortion rights advocates have held multiple strategy and engagement calls in recent days, including an Aug. 4 call with nearly 2,000 participants, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private meetings.
Abortion rights advocates have accused U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration in the past of being slow to act around a Supreme Court ruling in June that ended the constitutional right to abortion. Two Biden executive orders and engagement with key stakeholders led by Vice President Kamala Harris have assuaged some concerns, several told Reuters.
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 win Democrats’ support from many Republican voters during the midterms.
NEW LITIGATION STRATEGY
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 https://www.reuters.com/legal/government/hhs-says-federal-law-preempts-state-abortion-bans-emergency-situations-2022-07-11.
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 https://www.reuters.com/legal/government/federal-guidance-life-saving-abortions-puts-doctors-bind-2022-07-20.
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 (legal)enforcement,” she said.
VOTING, RESEARCH AND MESSAGING
The White House plans to replicate the success in Kansas, said the sources. It is closely tracking similar ballot initiatives in California, Kentucky, Michigan, and Vermont and gubernatorial races like Michigan’s, where abortion has become a central issue, sources said.
In Kansas, a team of the Democratic National Committee made about 30,000 phone calls and sent over 130,000 text messages to help turn out the vote.
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 with a consistent messaging plan, sources said.
It will target men in its messaging, asking them to consider how their sisters, nieces, cousins could be affected if abortions were unavailable, and to think about the costs related to supporting an unplanned pregnancy, 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,” said one of the sources.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons and Aurora Ellis)