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The White House is gearing up for a battle over abortion pill access

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Supreme Court has extended a temporary freeze in the abortion pill case until Friday at midnight.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

At stake is access to an FDA-approved medication used in abortions and to help manage miscarriages. The White House says it is prepared to fight, regardless of the outcome.

MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid has been looking into the White House strategy on defending mifepristone, and she's with us now to tell us more. Good morning, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So abortion access for the moment seems to be largely in the hands of the courts or the states. So what's the White House trying to do?

KHALID: Michel, the administration can't do a whole lot, it seems, on the policy front. It can fight this in the courts. That's what it's been doing. That's what it's going to continue to do. And I interviewed the White House chief of staff, Jeff Zients, yesterday. He also made it clear that the administration is going to continue to use the power of the bully pulpit.

JEFF ZIENTS: Vice President Harris is leading the charge for our administration with urgency and determination. We've been clear - she's been clear we're prepared for any outcome, and we're going to continue to fight. And the court needs to do the right thing here.

MARTIN: How is the White House doing that? How is it trying to draw focus to the issue?

KHALID: Well, the vice president has been traveling around the country. She's been meeting with local lawmakers, activists, students, health care providers. Her staff tells me she's been to 18 states so far. And, you know, she talks about, I will say, a woman's body, a woman's choice with a degree, I think, of authenticity, activists tell me, that Biden cannot necessarily do. You know, for example, the other day she was out on the streets of LA, rallying the crowd at a women's march. And then she went on to Reno, Nev., where she was applauding efforts to enshrine abortion rights into that state's constitution. But she was also criticizing Republicans for efforts nationwide to try to restrict abortion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: We have to have a countermovement to what they're attempting to do, which is to create a national ban on the right to make these decisions.

MARTIN: So, Asma, you've told us what the vice president is doing. What's the president doing?

KHALID: Well, you know, to be clear here, whatever the administration is doing is essentially the president's agenda, but he's not as visible on the issue. Some Democrats say that Biden is not as comfortable speaking about abortion. You know, he has expressed reservations in the past because of his Catholic faith. And I want to be clear here that his position has certainly evolved. Democrats say the debate has shifted so far to the right, with six-week bans and this medication abortion case, that it's easier for people to pick a side. I was speaking the other day with Lanae Erickson. She's with this centrist Democratic group called Third Way. And she had this sharp analysis of what exactly Biden's job is.

LANAE ERICKSON: I think that his role is to help frame just how extreme the Republican policies are. He is much more comfortable talking about the kind of edges of this debate and where it has moved.

KHALID: Biden's main role has been to set the direction of his administration - you know, make it clear that reproductive rights are a priority. He's also called on Congress to pass a law that would restore Roe v. Wade. But he's not out there rallying the troops. You know, he's framing abortion more broadly as a threat to democracy in the context of how extreme Republicans have become and also raising alarms about politics interfering in medical decisions made, you know, for example, by the FDA.

MARTIN: Let's talk for a minute about the politics. It would seem that this would be a huge focus as we head into next year's presidential elections. I'm just thinking even just about the role that it played in more recent state or midterm elections.

KHALID: No doubt. And I will say so far, Michel, reproductive rights seem to be a winning political issue for Democrats. You've seen that in recent elections, and you've seen that in polls.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Asma Khalid. Asma, thank you.

KHALID: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.