Biden Asks Federal Agencies to Help Boost Abortion Access
New executive order convenes an interagency task force to coordinate the administration’s response to the Supreme Court’s recent decision.
President Biden on Friday directed several agencies to take steps to improve access to abortions and related services, looking to leverage federal resources in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.
The Health and Human Services Department will lead the charge on many fronts, including by setting up an interagency Task Force on Reproductive Health Care Access to coordinate the administration's efforts. The White House did not detail the precise steps it will take, but HHS will oversee “additional action” to protect and expand access to abortion medication, ensure doctors provide emergency care related to pregnancy and pregnancy loss, and boost access to contraception and family planning services.
HHS will also increase public information efforts on reproductive health care, including abortion, to “ensure that Americans have access to reliable and accurate information about their rights and access to care.” The Justice Department, in conjunction with the White House, will aim to put together a cadre of attorneys from the private sector to provide legal representation for patients, providers and third-party groups facing potential repercussions for seeking or providing abortion care.
Biden said at the White House on Friday his order will direct HHS to “ensure all patients, including pregnant women and girls" get the care they need and are entitled to under federal law and that “doctors have the clear guidance on their own responsibilities and protections no matter what state they’re in.” He added the task force would strengthen coordination at the federal level and would focus specifically “on using every federal tool available to protect access to reproductive health care.”
The president's order directs HHS and the Federal Trade Commission to consider taking additional actions to protect consumers’ privacy when seeking information about or accessing reproductive health care. Again with few details, the White House said the administration would ensure the safety of patients, providers, third parties and mobile clinics seeking or offering abortions.
The White House has already taken some steps in the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision, including affirming that employees can use sick leave to get an abortion. The Defense Department issued a memorandum confirming it will continue providing covered abortions to military personnel, Defense civilians and eligible family members, meaning when such care is required to protect the patient or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. The U.S. Postal Service said it will not crack down on mailings of abortion medications to ensure they are not going to states where the drugs are prohibited and Justice warned states that they could not ban a federally approved medication.
Some advocates have asked the Biden administration to go much further in leveraging federal resources to expand abortion access, such as by providing abortion services on federal lands and within the Veterans Affairs Department’s health care system. The Biden administration has said it is not actively considering those steps. VA Secretary Denis McDonough told lawmakers in April his department had the statutory authority to provide abortion care and it was only a regulation that prevented it. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did not rule out a change in policy at VA.
“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,” Jean-Pierre said.