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Remarks in a Meeting on Reproductive Rights With State and Local Officials and an Exchange With Reporters

August 26, 2022

The President. Well, look, thanks for coming down. And I know you've been meeting with my staff——

[At this point, the President cleared his throat.]

——excuse me—and I'm just a—quote, a "drop-by." But I want to thank you for what you're doing and your focus.

I—you know, the—the leadership of State and local officials on this issue is incredibly important—incredibly important.

And as I said—excuse me for—I have a throat—frog in my throat here.

[The President took a sip of water.]

As I said, the Court got Roe right for nearly 50 years. And Congress, in my view, should—codify Roe for—once and for all. But right now we're short a handful of votes. And it passed the House, but in the Senate, we're short. And the only way it's going to happen is if the American people make it happen in November.

Remember that line in the court case—in the Dobbs case saying that women can speak? Well, they have no idea about who—you're going to hear women roar on this issue, and it's going to be consequential. So I'm optimistic that we'll get to a place where we're already making your voices heard, like you saw what happened with Pat Ryan up in New York picking up that district.

I think you're—I think the American people realize this is just beyond the pale. It's—it goes too far. In the meantime, I signed two Executive orders to protect access to reproductive health care, including emergency medical care, and to protect a woman's right to travel to get health care she needs. And I think one that's going to turn out to be as consequential as anything we've done is to protect her right to privacy so they can't access that information.

And we also just had a big district court win in Idaho. And so I'm here today to hear what you think, what you guys are doing. And so I'm going to, as they say, yield the floor.

And I want to—I came do a little listening, if I could, if that's all right.

Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs Julie Rodriguez. Yes. Thank you, Mr. President. We wanted to maybe first hear from the mayor of Durham, North Carolina—Mayor O'Neal—who's joined us today.

The President. Madam Mayor.

Mayor Elaine M. O'Neal of Durham, NC. Mr. President, I'm so happy to be here today and on this special day. This is Women's Equality Day. And in North Carolina, we are still a relatively safe-haven State for a woman's right to choose. But where it is a threat anywhere it is a threat for everybody.

And so today, in North Carolina, we stand ready to help change the narrative. I do you believe that it is time for us to talk about the encroachment—or nonencroachment—of reproductive rights for men.

The conversation in this arena has been primarily focused in on women's reproductive rights. But there are two partners when it comes to pregnancy, and we should look and see what the other side can contribute in this conversation when it comes to reproductive freedoms.

We are all at a crucial state in our Nation in a number of arenas, but the right to choose is a fundamental right in so many areas. And when it is threatened, we must all pitch in to make sure that it's balanced.

I'm a former judge. I was a sitting judge for 24 years at the State court. And so balancing and fairness is very important to me and my State and my city. And so I'm here today to try to tell us we must talk about the reproductive freedoms that men have that women do not currently enjoy.

Director Rodriguez. Thank you so much.

The President. Tell me how you do that. Now, I understand it—I mean, it's clear in its face you're accurate. But how, in making the case of the freedom men have—what do you do to—other than to sort of embarrass men into—getting into the—into the argument and voting the right way on this issue?

Mayor O'Neal. Well, I think that you can primarily list—I think one of my colleagues here this morning mentioned Viagra. If you start to talk about taking away the rights of men to take it, then what do we have? Or if we think about the fact that there are medical procedures that men can have as well—because an abortion is a medical procedure—there are medical procedures that men can have that will help them not to contribute to the making of a child.

So there has to be some discussions about why that is not a part of the conversation. Why is it solely focused on a woman? And I think just having a conversation causes people to kind of rethink and reshape that narrative. And we don't talk about that because those are very personal and intimate issues. But I do believe that it is a must that we focus in on what men can do to contribute physically to the making of a child or not making of a child.

The President. Okay.

Director Rodriguez. Thank you, Mayor. And next, we wanted to hear from Judge Hidalgo from Harris County, Texas. Judge?

County Judge Lina Hidalgo of Harris County, TX. Mr. President, as you know, I'm a county executive in Houston. And it was tragic: Just yesterday the trigger law in Texas came into effect. And it means that abortion is banned from the time of fertilization and that anyone who performs an abortion could be charged with a felony, and the penalty could be up to life in prison. And so, as we celebrate Women's Equality Day, we have everything but equality when it comes to this issue.

I'm hearing a lot of concern from our doctors in the community. Our public hospital system provides abortions when they're medically necessary. And those doctors are telling us they're not going to be able to determine anymore when it is legal to provide an abortion, because the law in Texas has no exemptions for rape or incest; only allows an abortion exception when the life of the mother is in danger or they're at danger of irreparable harm.

So how do you determine that if you're a doctor? And they're agonizing over it. They're agonizing about whether they protect a life or put themselves at severe legal jeopardy.

So we've worked to invest funds in some of the—some of the American Rescue Plan funds into tackling maternal mortality in Harris County. We already have the highest maternal mortality in Texas. Certainly, compared to the rest of the country, it's very, very high, and this will only exacerbate the problem.

Abortions aren't going anywhere. They're just going to become a bigger threat. And look, I've dealt with fires, flood, pandemic, the winter freeze we had in Texas. You visited, Mr. President, right after that tragedy.

The President. That's where I saw you last.

Judge Hidalgo. A lot of that—[laughter]—it was wonderful to have you, Mr. President. And look, a lot of that—perhaps the winter freeze is an exception—they're natural disasters. This is a man-made disaster that we have in Texas. It's a man-made disaster.

And we've got to change it, as you say, at the ballot box. But look, we have that, we have a bounty law, and we have a legislative session that's going to start in January where they're looking at tackling contraception—access to contraception. They're already talked about banning that—banning the pill that helps women seek abortion who can't make it to a clinic physically; that would make it even harder for women to travel.

A woman in Houston would have to travel 600 miles to get to the nearest abortion clinic in New Mexico. And so we need help figuring out how to get women to be able to seek that abortion, to travel to these States that are offering us safe havens.

We need funding for additional support for contraception, for reproductive health care. We're using our local funding to additionally support those women, to tackle maternal mortality with some of the funds you guys have sent. But it's a difficult day for women in Texas.

And I will say, I speak this as the only woman leading the largest county in the State of Texas, third largest in the country. And I am not out of step with the women of Texas, because the vast majority of Texans are opposed to this extreme law and—which I refuse to call partisan, because it is extreme. And all of us can join in determining that.

And so I speak for myself, I speak for women in Harris County, and I speak for the majority of Texans when I say this law has no place, and it's a slap in the face to do this the day before Women's Equality Day.

The President. I think you speak for women all over America. I think you speak for beyond women. I think you speak for the majority of the American people.

This is—the idea that there are no exceptions made as well is just not something that—you see what the—what the votes—who knows what happens in November, but you see what some of the votes that have occurred, that have taken place in the last—the last couple months here in the United States in various localities. The American people—I think this is above and beyond where everybody thought they'd—we'd go.

Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard of Mount Vernon, NY. Thank you so much, Mr. President, for——

Director Rodriguez. Oh——

The President. Oh, I'm sorry.

Director Rodriguez. Oh no, that's okay.

The President. I took control. I shouldn't do that.

Director Rodriguez. No problem, Mr. President.

The President. I'm not allowed to do that. Go ahead. You tell me.

Director Rodriguez. I think we're going to go ahead and have the rest of the conversation closed press. So thank you all so much.

Retrieval of Documents From Former President Donald J. Trump's Residence at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida

Q. Are you concerned national security could have been compromised at Mar-a-Lago?

The President. Let—we'll let the Justice Department determine that. We'll see what happens.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:12 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to County Executive Patrick K. Ryan of Ulster County, NY, in his capacity as U.S. Representative-elect for New York's 19th congressional district. He also referred to H.R. 3755. Also participating in the meeting were White House Gender Policy Council Cochair and Executive Director Jen Klein; Delaware State Chief Deputy Attorney General Alexander Mackler; Mayor Brandon Scott of Baltimore, MD; and Kansas State Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks in a Meeting on Reproductive Rights With State and Local Officials and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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