“Extreme Republican governors, extreme Republican state legislatures, and Republican extremists in the Congress overall — all of them have not only fought to take away the right — our rights — but they’re now determined to go as far as they can,” Biden said.
President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order that aims to protect access to reproductive health care and those who seek and provide abortions in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion.
Biden’s executive order attempts to protect and expand access to medication abortion and emergency contraception, provide legal support for people seeking or providing abortions, and protect patient privacy from Republican lawmakers intent on targeting women.
The president’s actions on Friday represent his most concrete response yet to the Court’s decision, a massively unpopular reversal of women’s rights driven by extreme right-wing judges and politicians.
“That wasn’t about the Constitution or the law. It was about a deep, long-seething antipathy towards Roe and the broader right to privacy,” Biden said during his speech at the White House. “The Court has made clear it will not protect the rights of women. Period.”
Biden, who has faced criticism for acting too slowly in response to the Court’s decision, spoke forcefully about the need to fight back and expand the Democrats’ majority in the Senate in order to reform the filibuster and codify Roe’s previously guaranteed protections and rights into law. He also highlighted what could happen if Republicans take control of the government.
“We need two additional pro-choice senators and a pro-choice House to codify Roe as federal law. Your vote can make that a reality,” Biden said. “We can’t wait. Extreme Republican governors, extreme Republican state legislatures, and Republican extremists in the Congress overall — all of them have not only fought to take away the right — our rights — but they’re now determined to go as far as they can.”
Abortion bans are already in place in several states, and Biden highlighted how many Republican governors and state legislatures are now rushing to impose harsh and brutally repressive abortion laws, including those that make no exception for rape, incest, or the mother’s life.
In Pennsylvania, abortion remains legal up to 24 weeks, as Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has vetoed multiple Republican-backed bills targeting abortion rights. But if Republicans retain control of the legislature in November and the party’s nominee for governor, state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), defeats Democrat Josh Shapiro, abortion rights could be on the chopping block in Pennsylvania. Mastriano wants to ban abortions after six weeks, without exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life.
In a sign of just how committed the Republican Party is to restricting women’s rights to make their own medical choices, the GOP-led legislature is also trying to amend the state constitution to target abortion. Their proposed amendment would add language to the constitution stating that it does not “grant the right to taxpayer-funded abortion or any other right relating to abortion.” Abortion rights advocates argue that the amendment would effectively make it impossible for them to challenge future abortion bans in court.
The state House and Senate approved the amendment last week, but that marked just the beginning of the process. The proposal would have to pass both the House and Senate again next year and then be placed on the ballot for voters, who would have the final say on whether to approve it or not.
If Republicans succeed, the commonwealth’s abortion laws could look a lot more like those in neighboring Ohio, where the state’s new six-week abortion ban reportedly forced a 10-year-old victim of rape to travel to Indiana to get her abortion.
“Ten years old. Ten years old! Raped, six weeks pregnant, already traumatized, was forced to travel to another state. Imagine being that little girl,” Biden said. “A 10-year-old girl shouldn’t be forced to give birth to a rapist’s child … I can’t think of anything as much more extreme.”
While Biden cannot single-handedly restore the nationwide right to abortion or intervene in Pennsylvania’s battles, the measures taken Friday represent a use of executive power to defend abortion access where possible.
According to legal expert Leah Litman, Biden’s effort seems designed to protect patients who travel out of state to obtain abortion care. Republican lawmakers in states that have already banned abortion have been discussing ways to block women from crossing state lines and are crafting legislation to further restrict women’s abilities to get the care they need.
- Directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to expand access to emergency contraception and long-acting reversible contraception like intrauterine devices (IUDs).
- Instructs HHS to clarify that under current federal law, emergency rooms cannot turn away patients or deny them care if they are in a medical crisis. This is intended to ensure patients have access to “the full rights and protections for emergency medical care afforded under the law.” This provision could rectify concerns about abortion bans preventing treatment for ectopic pregnancies and miscarraiges.
- Directs US Attorney General Merrick Garland and the White House counsel to coordinate a group of volunteer attorneys, bar associations, and public interest groups to defend patients and medical providers who face state-level charges for “lawfully seeking or offering reproductive health care services throughout the country.” According to the White House, those lawyers could defend people who are prosecuted for traveling from a state that has banned abortion to one where it remains legal.
- Asks AG Garland to work with the Department of Homeland Security and consider actions to protect patients, providers, clinics, pharmacies, and anyone else involved in delivering reproductive health care services.
- Instructs the Federal Trade Commission to consider taking actions to protect consumer privacy when people seek information about reproductive health care services.
- Directs HHS to consider taking additional steps to protect sensitive information related to reproductive health care. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra has already directed his department to issue guidance clarifying that in most cases, doctors and abortion providers are not required to disclose the private information of patients, including to law enforcement. In some cases, they’re specifically barred from disclosing such information.
- Commands HHS to increase outreach and education “to ensure that Americans have access to reliable and accurate information about their rights and access to care.”
- Directs Becerra to submit a report to the president within 30 days on the actions his department is taking on the matter.
- Establishes an interagency task force on abortion access, which will include AG Garland.
While Biden can only do so much on his own, his efforts represent a pushback on what he describes as the Republican Party’s war on freedoms.
“The Court and its allies are committed to moving America backward with fewer rights, less autonomy, and politicians invading the most personal of decisions,” Biden said on Friday. “We cannot allow an out-of-control Supreme Court, working in conjunction with the extremist elements of the Republican Party, to take away freedoms and our personal autonomy.”