President Biden orders actions to protect abortion rights

HHS to lead campaign with Attorney General and Federal Trade Commission for access and accurate information.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will mobilize to protect access to reproductive health care, including abortion, according to a new executive order.

Two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade court case that legalized abortion, President Joe Biden issued an executive order to federal agencies to move against the new “health crisis.”

“Eliminating the right recognized in Roe has already had and will continue to have devastating implications for women’s health and public health more broadly,” the executive order said. “Access to reproductive healthcare services is now threatened for millions of Americans, and especially for those who live in states that are banning or severely restricting abortion care. Women’s health clinics are being forced to close — including clinics that offer other preventive healthcare services such as contraception — leaving many communities without access to critical reproductive healthcare services. Women seeking abortion care — especially those in low-income, rural, and other underserved communities — now have to travel to jurisdictions where services remain legal notwithstanding the cost or risks.”

HHS actions

Within 30 days, HHS must report to the White House with potential actions to protect and expand access to abortion care, including medication abortion, along with a public awareness initiative about access to reproductive health care services. HHS will lead a new Task Force on Reproductive Health Care Access to identify and coordinate the activities, according to the executive order.

The U.S. Attorney General will convene a meeting to encourage lawyers to represent and assist patients and providers. The Federal Trade Commission is encouraged to consider actions to protect consumers’ privacy while seeking information on reproductive health care services.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra issued a statement praising Biden’s “unwavering commitment” to protecting reproductive health care, including abortion.

“At his direction, HHS initiated concrete action to protect access to these critical health care services, as well as the privacy and legal rights of patients and providers,” Becerra said. “As President Biden reiterated today, we are working closely with the Attorney General and other federal partners to ensure patients and providers have the information, support, and care they need.”

The White House and HHS have published fact sheets outlining various federal actions to deal with the Supreme Court ruling, including creation of the new website, reproductiverights.gov.

At the state level

On June 24 Supreme Court delivered its decision in the case known as Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization. That case challenged a Mississippi law banning abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR).

The decision prompted demonstrations by abortion supporters and opponents around the country. Medical organizations generally have slammed the ruling for government meddling in the physician-patient relationship, limiting women’s rights to health care and potentially criminalizing health care.

With states determining abortion access and legality, CRR and the Guttmacher Institute have forecasted abortion will become heavily restricted or illegal in up to 26 states. Since the ruling, abortion has been banned in nine states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and West Virginia, according to CRR.

Lawsuits challenging abortion restrictions have begun in at least eight states: North Dakota, Louisiana, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma, according to CRR.