President Biden Mobilizes Federal Resources to Support Abortion Access for All

President Biden before signing an executive order protecting access to reproductive healthcare services in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 8, 2022. “We cannot allow an out-of-control Supreme Court working in conjunction with extremist elements of the Republican Party to take away freedoms and our personal autonomy,” he said. (Samuel Corum / AFP via Getty Images)

On Friday, President Joseph Biden issued an executive order to protect reproductive rights after the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion in the Dobbs decision. The executive order announces actions to expand access to medication abortion and contraception as well as ensure pregnant women’s access to accurate reproductive health information and emergency care. The order also takes steps to protect privacy of patients’ reproductive health information and promote safety of patients, providers and clinics. To achieve these goals, Biden orders the formation of an interagency task force on reproductive healthcare access.

Lawmakers, advocates and doctors celebrated Biden’s actions.

“President Biden’s executive order today helps advance Democrats’ fight to defend Americans’ health freedom from all-out assault by right-wing extremists,” said U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement issued on Friday. “This action will take steps to uphold a woman’s right to make her own health decisions: protecting access to FDA-approved medication abortion, strengthening enforcement of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive protections and defending the legal rights of both patients and providers.”

Many other members of Congress, advocates and medical professionals celebrated the move in statements and on social media.

“We commend the president for making it clear that the full weight of the government will be brought to bear on the legal and public health crisis unfolding across our country,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. “This crisis is here because of a decades-long strategy where extremist politicians took over our courts, restricted our right to vote, and gerrymandered their districts in order to deny us economic security, equality and freedom. Undoing these injustices will take efforts by all of us, including using the full force of the federal government.”

This crisis is here because of a decades-long strategy where extremist politicians took over our courts, restricted our right to vote, and gerrymandered their districts in order to deny us economic security, equality and freedom.

Fatima Goss Graves

The executive order directs the secretary of health and human services (HHS) to submit a progress report to the president within 30 days.

Biden’s executive order first directs HHS to take actions to protect and expand access to abortion medications regulated by the FDA. The executive order builds on the Biden administration’s removal last December of a longstanding requirement that doctors dispense the abortion pill mifepristone in person as well as a ban on pharmacies’ distributing the medication.

The order does not have specifics, but the FDA could remove the remaining unnecessary restrictions on mifepristone, including the requirement that doctors must register with the drug manufacturer to prescribe the medication, pharmacies must be certified to dispense the medication and that the medication can only be used through 10 weeks of pregnancy. (The World Health Organization has approved use through 12 weeks and some advocates say abortion pills are safe later in pregnancy.)

In addition, HHS and the Department of Justice could file briefs in support the drugmaker GenBioPro in its Mississippi lawsuit challenging other restrictions on mifepristone that conflict with FDA standards, such as requiring doctors to dispense the medication in person.

To ensure the reproductive health of people accessing care in federally-funded facilities, Biden’s executive order directs the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) to “make clear, publicly” that all hospitals receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funds are required by federal law to provide all FDA-approved drugs (such as emergency contraception) and to provide all necessary treatment in a medical emergency required under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.

In light of the threats to contraceptive care posed by the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, the order directs HHS to ensure enforcement of the Affordable Care Act’s guarantee of free birth control and contraceptive counseling for individuals and covered dependents, including emergency contraception and long-acting reversible contraception like IUDs. The order also directs HHS to launch outreach and public education efforts to ensure that Americans have access to reliable and accurate information about their rights and access to reproductive health are services, including abortion.

This executive order shows the Biden administration is willing to fight for women while our rights are under attack.

Amanda Brown Lierman

To legally protect people accessing abortion healthcare, the order directs the attorney general and the White House counsel to convene private pro bono attorneys, bar associations and public interest organizations “to encourage robust legal representation of patients, providers and third parties” lawfully seeking or offering reproductive healthcare services throughout the country, including protection of the right to travel out of state to seek medical care.

On patient privacy, the order directs HHS, the attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take steps to protect consumer privacy when seeking information about reproductive healthcare services, including “addressing the transfer and sales of sensitive health-related data, combatting digital surveillance related to reproductive healthcare services, and protecting people seeking reproductive healthcare from inaccurate information, fraudulent schemes, or deceptive practices” online and in person. This could potentially lead for the first time to federal regulation of fake abortion clinics, also known as “crisis pregnancy clinics.” The order also directs federal agencies to issue a how-to guide for consumers on steps they can take to make sure they’re protecting their personal data on mobile apps.

To address widespread anti-abortion violence, Biden’s order promises that his administration will work to ensure the safety of patients, providers and third parties, and to protect the security of other entities that are providing, dispensing or delivering reproductive healthcare services, including mobile clinics deployed on state borders to offer care for out-of-state patients.

Finally, the executive order directs HHS and the White House Gender Policy Council to establish and lead an interagency Task Force on Reproductive Health Care Access, responsible for coordinating federal interagency policymaking and program development. This task force will also include the attorney general, who is directed to provide technical assistance to states affording legal protection to out-of-state patients as well as providers who offer legal reproductive healthcare.

“We applaud President Biden for stepping up to the moment and safeguarding our access to reproductive care,” said Amanda Brown Lierman, executive director of Supermajority. “This executive order shows the Biden administration is willing to fight for women while our rights are under attack.

“While this executive order is not the only solution to this arcane and restrictive ruling, it is a critical step towards safeguarding our ability to choose,” she continued. “But we must continue to work until our lives are safe and our bodies are respected. Women—as the majority bloc of voters—have to show up to the ballot boxes and keep our elected leaders accountable. We will not stop organizing, voting or protesting until our reproductive freedoms are permanently safe.”

Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.

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About

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.