Biden unveils executive order to protect abortion access

President Biden signed an executive order Friday aimed at preserving some access to abortion services, but again acknowledged Congress has ultimate control over the issue right now.

“If you want to change the circumstance for women, and even little girls in this country, please go out and vote,” Biden said.

The executive order builds off some of the administration’s previously announced efforts, and is limited in scope. It provides some incremental measures to protect access to emergency medical care for women who will seek abortions in states that ban it.

Facing mounting pressure from Democrats and abortion rights advocates to be more forceful, Biden said voting in the mid-term elections is the fastest way to ensure abortion rights are enshrined into law.  Some lawmakers and strategists complained that the White House was caught flat-footed and had no ready-made response even though a draft of the ruling leaked in early May.

“Let me be clear. While I wish it had not come to this, this is the fastest route available,” Biden said. “The fastest way to restore Roe is to pass a national law codifying Roe, which I will sign immediately upon its passage on my desk.”

Democrats currently do not have enough votes in the Senate to overcome a GOP filibuster, and previous efforts to pass legislation that would codify and expand the right to an abortion failed.

“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.

More than a dozen states have either banned abortion outright or enacted strict limitations in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, and about a dozen more have indicated more restrictions are coming soon. 

Biden predicted women will turn out to vote in record numbers for politicians that support abortion rights, and “to reclaim the rights that have taken from them by the Court.”

“I don’t think the Court—or for that matter the Republicans who for decades have pushed their extreme agenda—have a clue about the power of American women. But they’re about to find out,” Biden said.

The executive order instructs the Department of Health and Human Services to protect and expand access to abortion medication by mail, which is legal and approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but still banned or restricted in many states.

The White House doesn’t have the power to compel states with abortion bans to allow medication abortion, and the executive order did not make it clear how HHS would ensure access is protected. 

The order also instructs the Department of Justice and White House staff to convene private pro-bono lawyers and public interest groups to defend women targeted for prosecution if they travel out of state for reproductive care.

Yet the actions are unlikely to assuage some of the Democrats calling for more significant action. The administration has resisted calls to take bold steps like allowing abortion providers on federal lands, or to declare abortion a public health emergency.

Jen Klein, director of the White House Gender Policy Council, insisted Friday that a public health emergency on abortion is “definitely not off the table” but added it doesn’t free up many resources and doesn’t release significant legal authority.

Updated at 2:00 p.m.

Tags abortion access abortion rights abortion rights executive order Executive Order Joe Biden President Joe Biden

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