The fact the White House is considering a limited abortion health emergency declaration should perhaps not be surprising. President Biden has previously said he has asked his administration to consider whether he has the authority to declare such a public health emergency, although the US Government may be fearful of another Supreme Court showdown. Now, according to Adam Cancryn for Politico, a narrow public health directive aimed at safeguarding access to abortion pills is increasingly considered the most feasible of the White House’s limited options for protecting abortion access, relying on powers under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act.
Discussion of such a measure comes as the House of Representatives voted to pass a bill which would enshrine protections for same-sex marriage into federal law. The final vote was 267 to 157 with 47 Republicans joining Democrats, although the bill’s passage through the Senate looks shakier. The vote comes against the backdrop of words by Justice Clarence Thomas in the Dobbs case which overturned Roe vs. Wade, that the Supreme Court “should reconsider” its past rulings codifying rights to contraception access, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage. The move suggests preparations for a ramping up of the culture wars within the country.
In addition to safeguarding the right to same-sex marriage, the new bill also includes federal protections for interracial marriages. House Democrats are meanwhile looking at moving a bill to guarantee access to contraception. For its part, the White House has stressed it has little power to singlehandedly preserve abortion access, pointing instead to November’s midterms as an opportunity to protect abortion access. Data suggests abortion is becoming a major issue for voters after Dobbs, with 66 per cent of voters saying it is now either extremely or very important. According to Gallup, while 37 per cent of Republicans and Republican-leaners say abortion is extremely important, this rises to 48 per cent for Democrats and Democrat-leaners. Pollsters are also showing a definite shift to the Democrats post-Dobbs.
Meanwhile, data from the Pew Research Center suggests the US public is increasingly divided on the subject, which threatens to make any resolution increasingly difficult. Even in states where abortion bans are in place, or are set to be so, opinions are divided. In states where abortions are newly prohibited with limited exceptions or newly restricted, 52 per cent of people disapprove of the Supreme Court’s ruling (with 36 per cent and 38 per cent disagreeing strongly, respectively). This is against 46 per cent who approve in states with new prohibitions and 47 per cent who approve in states with new restrictions. Meanwhile, in states where abortion is allowed but the future is uncertain, 53 per cent of people disapprove of the judgement, while 45 per cent back the Supreme Court.
The danger is that – much as in Europe – the cultural division opening up in the United States between the more religious and conservative-minded, and the more secular and progressive types, is becoming simply unbridgeable. Of course, the major differences are that Europe and the EU is not yet a country like the US, and the division within Europe falls along a very neat geographic dividing line, meaning any partition between the two sides could be much easier than in the US, where divisions are increasingly intra-state as much as inter-state. No doubt the midterms will be an opportunity for the US culture wars to manifest themselves, amplified by mainstream and social media. In the meantime, at least 17 Democratic members of Congress have been arrested at a pro-abortion protest in Washington, as the war of words continues.
Whoever wins these culture wars in the US is going to have to make some attempt to reach across the aisle to the other side. If without the luxury of neatly breaking apart – as the EU has – the US then risks a much messier and more fractious future without some attempt at winning hearts and minds
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