Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department is working to protect women’s civil rights in the 35 days since the national right to abortion was upended by the Supreme Court.
In a virtual meeting Friday with a team of lawyers, Mr. Garland said the effect of the high court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which sent the issue of abortion back to state legislatures, was “immediate, wide-ranging and devastating.”
He said the Justice Department is working to ensure women have the right to travel out of state for abortions if necessary, that federal agencies can still provide emergency reproductive services, that patients and medical providers are safe at clinics, and that states can’t ban medical abortion.
“The law could not be clearer and we are going to vigorously litigate this issue to make sure women get the emergency medical care they are entitled [to],” he said.
White House Counsel Stuart Delery said Friday’s meeting was for listening and information gathering, hearing from women, medical providers and lawyers who have litigated abortion issues in the courts.
“Before we can fight, we must listen,” he said. “Today we will listen and learn.”
As part of President Biden’s executive order protecting access to reproductive health care services, the group held its first meeting with pro bono attorneys who will give women legal advice and guidance when seeking abortion services.
The president signed the executive order after the Supreme Court overruled the national right to abortion last month. The decision sent the issue of abortion back to the states and upended Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision.
The executive order requires Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to explore how the federal government can protect abortion rights and provide access to medication for abortion and contraception. It also ordered privacy rights and the safety of patients at clinics to be protected.
Conservative states have moved to severely limit abortion, while some are enacting near-total bans.