Democrat Cory Booker announces plan to protect abortion rights

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Democratic U.S. Senator Cory Booker on Wednesday announced a series of executive actions he would take to protect abortion rights if he is elected president, as new statewide restrictions have thrust the issue into the 2020 campaign.

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Booker proposed a new White House Office of Reproductive Freedom, whose mission would be “coordinating and affirmatively advancing abortion rights and access to reproductive health care” across all federal agencies. He also said he would guarantee access to contraceptives for people with employer-covered health care as part of the Affordable Care Act.

The announcement came one day after Booker joined several Democratic presidential hopefuls at an abortion rights rally outside the U.S Supreme Court after a series of state laws restricting abortion, including Alabama legislation passed last week that would criminalize virtually all abortions.

Other Republican-controlled states have passed so-called “heartbeat” laws that prohibit abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

The state laws directly challenge the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which established a woman’s right to end her pregnancy. The legislation is part of a broad effort by conservatives to push the issue before the Supreme Court once again, after President Donald Trump’s appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh shifted the court further to the right.

“Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country are mounting a coordinated attack on abortion access and reproductive rights,” Booker said in a statement. “A coordinated attack requires a coordinated response.”

On Tuesday, Democrat Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman seeking the presidency, unveiled his own proposals, saying he would work with Congress to pass laws preventing states from taking away those rights.

Last week, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, another Democratic contender, called on Congress to codify Roe’s protections with federal legislation.

Like those candidates, Booker said on Tuesday he would push Congress to enact laws securing Roe’s holding. But he also said he would use presidential executive authority to protect abortion rights, perhaps a recognition that such legislation would face intractable Republican opposition in Congress.

Among other actions, Booker would reverse the Trump administration’s plan to prevent providers like Planned Parenthood from offering abortion counseling to low-income patients and would appoint federal judges committed to upholding Roe.

Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Susan Thomas