Biden orders federal agencies to protect access to abortion

By Mia Hunt on 07/12/2022 | Updated on 07/12/2022

Biden acknowledged the limitations facing his office and said “the quickest way to restore Roe is [for Congress] to pass a national law.” Photo by NASA/Bill Ingalls via Flickr

President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing government agencies to use “all available tools to protect access to reproductive health care.”

The move comes after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month to overturn Roe v. Wade ending a constitutional right to abortion and meaning a number of “trigger laws” have come into effect in states that ban or severely restrict the procedure.

Under the order, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the White House Gender Policy Council will establish an interagency working group on access to reproductive health care to coordinate administrative efforts. HHS will oversee efforts to protect and expand access to abortion drugs, ensure patients receive emergency care related to pregnancy and pregnancy loss, and strengthen access to contraceptive services and family planning.

The department will also launch an education program to “ensure that Americans have access to reliable and accurate information about their rights and access to care,” and the Justice Department will convene attorneys, working pro bono. , to represent family planning patients and providers. “lawfully seek or offer reproductive health care services nationwide”. Representation would include protecting the right of women to travel out of state to access abortion services.

The order also seeks to protect patient privacy “including by tackling the transfer and sale of sensitive health-related data, combating digital surveillance related to reproductive health care services, and protecting people seeking reproductive health care against inaccurate information, fraudulent or misleading schemes”. practices”.

Read more: US government makes ‘commitment to reproductive health care’ in sick leave rules

The fact sheet outlining the executive order’s actions said the Supreme Court’s decision “specifically took away from the American people a right they had recognized for nearly 50 years – the right of a woman to take her own reproductive health decisions without government interference.

“Fundamental rights – to privacy, autonomy, liberty and equality – have been denied to millions of women across the country, with serious consequences for their health, life and well-being. This decision will disproportionately affect women of color, low-income women and rural women,” he said.

Biden’s limited powers

Biden acknowledged the limitations his office faces. “The fastest way to restore Roe is through national legislation,” he said. However, he pointed out that Democrats currently do not have the votes in the US Senate to do so.

Until such a law is passed, the president “is committed to doing everything in his power to defend reproductive rights and protect access to safe and legal abortion,” the House said. White.

The executive order is one of many steps the federal government has taken to protect access to abortion. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released a July 4 fact sheet saying that federal government employees can use paid sick leave if they must cross state lines to receive medical treatment or to accompany a family member who is, in what the White House called “a commitment to reproductive health care.”

The Department of Defense also issued a memorandum confirming that it will continue to provide “covered” abortions to military personnel, defense civilians and eligible family members, i.e. when such care are necessary to protect the patient or that the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. .

Some advocates have called on the Biden administration to go further in mobilizing federal resources, such as providing abortion services on federal lands and within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system. ). The Biden administration has said it is not actively considering those moves, although White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has not ruled out a change in policy at VA.

It is understood that Biden is considering declaring access to abortion a public health emergency. This measure allocates additional funds to HHS to respond to a crisis, although it is generally reserved for an infectious disease outbreak, bioterrorist attack, and other such incidents. Declaring an emergency could shield patients and providers from liability, such as for providing abortion drugs in “hostile states,” according to the Washington Post. However, the White House said such an intervention does not appear to be “a great option”.

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