It’s been two weeks since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. Over a dozen states have already banned abortion outright, creating a patchwork of abortion access all over the country.
President Biden signed an executive order on abortion rights on Friday at the White House in response to the ruling. The order attempts to safeguard access to FDA-approved abortion pills and protect abortion providers from prosecution in states where the procedure has been banned, but without at least 60 votes in Congress, there’s only so much the administration can do to protect abortion rights.
What’s in the Executive Order?
The order is meant to provide clarity on several key issues related to abortion access now that a woman’s right to choose is not longer protected by the constitution.
The president directed Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to review the administration’s options when it comes to protecting abortion rights. The secretary is required to submit his findings in a report to the President within 30 days.
The order will also establish an interagency task force on reproductive rights, which will include the Department of Justice.
Becerra and the Department of Health and Human Services will implement policies to expand access to emergency contraception as well as reversible contraception, such as IUDs. The administration is working to make sure patients have access to “the full rights and protections for emergency medical care afforded under the law.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland also issued a statement saying states cannot ban Mifepristone, a pill used to terminate early-stage pregnancies.
The administration will also invest in public outreach and education on abortion access to keep providers and patients informed of their rights.
The White House is assembling a group of pro bono lawyers and non-profit organizations that are willing to provide legal representation to those seeking a lawful abortion.
Abortion advocates are also concerned about patient privacy. Prosecutors in states where abortion has been banned could request medical records of patients who obtained an abortion illegally. In response, the President has asked the Federal Trade Commission to consider taking steps to protect consumer health information. HHS is also considering actions to protect sensitive health information using HIPAA.
The administration also vowed to protect healthcare providers and mobile clinics that provide abortions next to states where it is no longer legal.
Despite these actions, many abortion rights advocates say the order doesn’t go far enough.
For example, advocates would like to see the President use federal land and resources, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, to provide abortion services in states where the procedure has been banned, but Biden said this would likely expose federal abortion providers to prosecution.
“As you know, current regulation doesn’t allow for the V.A. to provide abortions,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. “We’re going to continue to review. We’re going to continue to explore every possible option to protect women’s rights and access to reproductive health.”
Some are even calling on Biden to declare a national health emergency, which would allow the federal government to move quickly to protect abortion rights.
“You need to be willing to take some risks — even if the anticipation is it might not work,” said Andrea Miller, the president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, an advocacy organization. “Because we are facing an immediate crisis.”
However, some abortion rights advocates were quick to praise the president’s executive order.
Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement that “President Biden’s executive order to safeguard access to reproductive health care, including abortion care, is an important first step in restoring the rights taken from millions of Americans by the Supreme Court.”
The administration has acknowledged that its hands are largely tied when it comes to abortion.
“President Biden has made clear that the only way to secure a woman’s right to choose is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe as federal law. Until then, he has committed to doing everything in his power to defend reproductive rights and protect access to safe and legal abortion,” the White House said in a statement on Friday.
President Biden is calling on people who support abortion rights to vote in November, so the party can secure enough votes in the Senate to pass federal abortion rights legislation.
“For God’s sake, there’s an election in November. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote,” the president said. He added that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe “practically dares” women to asset their political power to put in place laws that restore abortion rights. “Consider the challenge accepted, court. But in the meantime, I’m signing this important executive order.”