President Joe Biden will sign an executive order Friday morning directing his health department to expand access to abortion pills, beef up enforcement of Obamacare’s birth control coverage mandate and organize a cadre of pro bono lawyers to help defend people criminally charged for seeking or providing the procedure.
The administration will also “consider” several additional actions to shore up privacy rights for patients using digital apps like period trackers and those who are now at risk of being reported to law enforcement by a medical provider. They will also “consider” strengthening protections for doctors performing abortions in medical emergencies by updating the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, and plan to stand up another interagency task force that includes the Attorney General.
Biden has already asked the administration to explore many of these steps, while others remain vague on their exact mechanisms. The White House stressed that none of them would fully restore abortion rights to the tens of millions of people who recently lost them, and argued “that the only way to secure a woman’s right to choose is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe as federal law.”
The action comes exactly two weeks after the Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade — as a broad swath of states are eliminating access to the procedure, abortion doctors are moving their practices across the country, and progressive advocates are increasingly furious that the administration hasn’t done more sooner to respond.
“We’ve received a lot of lip service from this administration and all the gaslighting calls to ‘just vote’ are not enough,” said Sharmin Hossain, the Campaign Director of the Liberate Abortion Coalition, a group of more than 150 reproductive rights organizations. “We can’t wait 190 days [until the election]. People need care now and that wait could mean life or death for people.”
Activists like Hossain and Democratic officials in Congress and around the country have pushed the Biden administration to go further, sending letters to Biden asking for travel vouchers and other financial supports for people crossing state lines for the procedure and pleading with him to drop the remaining FDA restrictions on abortion pills, which include a requirement that any pharmacy that distributes the drug obtain a special license. Democrats have also lobbied the Pentagon to allow service members who are stationed in states that have banned abortion or plan to do so to take leave to travel for the procedure, while some governors are pushing for the White House to update the rules around importing drugs to protect people who may go to Canada for abortion pills.
They have also asked the White House to explore the legality and logistics of leasing federal land or federal facilities like Veterans Affairs clinics to abortion providers to restore access in red states.
“The urgency of the action needs to meet the emergency of the moment,” said Morgan Hopkins with All* Above All. “People need abortions now. Every minute of every day since this decision people have been denied care. Voters are watching very closely for how their elected officials are going to show up for them right now.”
David Lim contributed to this report.
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