President Joe Biden said Friday that federal legislation offered the fastest route to restoring US abortion rights and urged voters to elect pro-choice legislators in upcoming elections in defiance of an "out of control" Supreme Court.
Under pressure to take a tougher line on defending women’s reproductive rights, Biden signed an executive order aimed at shoring up access to abortion after what he described as the court's "terrible, extreme" decision to remove the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.
But the president, whose room for manoeuvre on the issue is limited, said the most effective response would be made through the ballot box in the November mid-term elections by handing him firm control of the legislature.
"Vote, vote, vote," he said in an appeal particularly aimed at American women.
"The fastest route to restore Roe is to pass a national law codifying Roe, which I will sign immediately upon its passage at my desk. We cannot wait," Biden said, referring to the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that established the right to abortion.
If Republicans were to take control of Congress, he also vowed to veto any effort to pass a federal ban on abortion.
"We cannot allow an out of control Supreme Court working in conjunction with extremist elements of the Republican Party to take away freedoms and our personal autonomy," he said.
Biden has been criticised from within his own Democratic Party for perceived inaction since the Supreme Court ruling on June 24.
After the ruling, several states have banned or severely restricted abortion and others are expected to follow suit.
'Not nearly enough'
Many Democrats, often speaking anonymously in the press, have complained that Biden and his team have failed to respond adequately to the bombshell judgment by the Supreme Court.
Seeking to recover, Biden on Friday signed an executive order designed to protect women's sensitive health-related data and "fight digital surveillance related to reproductive health care services."
Advocacy groups are warning of the risks posed by women's online data such as their geolocation and apps that monitor their menstrual cycles, which they say could be used to go after women who have had abortions.
Biden's order also seeks to protect mobile clinics deployed to the borders of states that have banned abortion.
The administration wants to guarantee access to contraception and abortion medication and set up a network of volunteer lawyers to help women on abortion issues, the White House said.
"The executive actions being undertaken are needed first steps, but it's not nearly enough," said Women's March director Rachel O'Leary Carmona in a statement.
"I call on the administration to recognize the true emergency we are in. Get creative. Get caught trying. Don't let norms, or decency, or 'tradition' stand in your way. Lives are on the line."
But Biden cannot do much to battle the Supreme Court, or the states hostile to him when he lacks a solid majority in Congress.
So he is calling on Americans to turn out in droves and vote Democrat in the midterm elections.
The goal is to codify the right to abortion as a federal law, which would nullify state decisions to ban the procedure.
Many Democrats fear this drive to get out the vote will flop. Biden is now an unpopular president and Americans' biggest worry these days is sky-high inflation.
And beyond the abortion issue some Democrats wonder if Biden, 79, a centrist who shuns headline-grabbing action, has the ability to take on an aggressively conservative American right in an era of acute political tension.
All he has to do is look at press editorials of recent days, including in news outlets seen as sympathetic.
"Is Joe Biden the wrong president at the wrong time?" read a headline Thursday in The Washington Post, while The Atlantic magazine asked "Is Biden a Man out of Time?"