US supreme court has made ‘terrible decisions’, says Biden following overturning of Roe v Wade

More than 20 states expected to introduce new laws to ban or place restrictions on access to abortion

The US supreme court has made some “terrible decisions”, president Joe Biden has said.

Speaking on Saturday morning as he departed for the G7 summit in Germany he described the court’s decision to eliminate the constitutional right of a woman to have an abortion as “shocking”.

The court ruling means it will now be up to politicians in states across the country to determine whether and in what circumstances abortion services would be provided.

The president said he and his wife Jill Biden knew “how painful and devastating a decision is for so many Americans”.

The president said his administration was going to “take actions to protect women’s rights and reproductive health”.

“My administration is going to focus on how [states] administer it and whether or not they violate other laws, like deciding to not allow people across state lines to get public health services. And we’re going to take actions to protect women’s rights and reproductive health.”

On Friday night, Mr Biden said the health and lives of women across the United States are now at risk following the elimination by the supreme court of a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion.

He described the overturning on Friday of the landmark Roe V Wade ruling from 1973 as “a sad day for the court and the country”. He said the court was leading the nation down “an extreme and dangerous path”.

He said the court decision was a “tragic error” and would have real and immediate consequences as state laws banning abortions, in the absence of a constitutional right to a termination, were automatically coming in to effect straight away, putting in jeopardy the health of millions of women.

The president said the ruling could mean that a woman who was the victim of rape or incest could not get an abortion unless this was permitted under an exception to state law. He maintained that some state laws were extreme and had no exceptions.

“So extreme that the woman could be punished for protecting their health. So extreme that women and girls are forced to bear their rapist’s child.”

Mr Biden also warned on Friday that the decision could also have wide-ranging implications for other rights.

The main ruling said it dealt only with abortion. However, the president pointed to comments made by conservative justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion that the court should revisit decisions on the right to contraception and same-sex marriage.

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, said that the Roe decision in 1973 had been “egregiously wrong from the start.”

“Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences.”

The court found that abortion should be an issue left to politicians to determine.

More than 20 states are now expected to introduce new laws or reactivate dormant legislation dating back to before 1973 which would ban or place restrictions on access to abortion.

The president said his administration would do all in its power to defend women’s rights to travel between states to access an abortion and to protect access to medication through the post. The president called on voters to elect more pro-choice politicians in elections in November to allow legislation on abortion be introduced.

The supreme court decision was given in the case involving a Mississippi which would ban almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with narrow exceptions for medical emergencies or foetal abnormalities.

The court decision has been condemned by liberals but welcomed by conservative politicians and religious groups.

In Ireland Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik said overturning the constitutional right to abortion in the US was a “horrific step back for women’s rights” threatening a real risk to lives”.

“We also know from our own experience that constitutional restrictions on access to safe legal abortion can cause serious risks to women’s lives and health. Indeed, the constitution is no place to regulate a complex and sensitive matter like abortion.”

However, Ireland’s Pro Life Campaign welcomed the US supreme court move and said it was a “momentous development for the right to life” and “the protection of the most vulnerable members of the human family, unborn babies”.

“Since the Roe v Wade decision in 1973, there have been over 60 million legal abortions performed in the US,” said spokeswoman Eilís Mulroy.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent

Brian Hutton

Brian Hutton is a freelance journalist and Irish Times contributor