WASHINGTON — The Biden administration took actions Wednesday to further safeguard women’s reproductive health rights in the wake of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
‘This Fight is Not Over’
Because reproductive rights are now in the hands of governors and state legislatures, “even the life of the mother is in question, in some states,” Biden said. “Republican congressmen with extreme … ideology are determined to go even further, talking about nationwide bans that would outlaw abortion in every stage, in every circumstance, and going after the broader right to privacy as well. But as I said before, this fight is not over.”
- Increase access for patients who travel out of state for abortions: The executive order calls for the HHS secretary to “consider action to advance access” to reproductive healthcare services, including for Medicaid patients who travel out of state for abortions.
- Ensure that healthcare providers follow federal non-discrimination laws: That could include helping providers who are unsure of their obligations now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade; meeting with providers to explain their obligations as well as the consequences of not complying with non-discrimination rules; and “issuing additional guidance or taking other appropriate action in response to any complaints or reports of non-compliance with federal non-discrimination laws.”
- Promote research and data collection on maternal health outcomes: The HHS secretary must “evaluate and improve research, data collection, and data analysis efforts at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on maternal health and other health outcomes” related to diminished access to reproductive healthcare, according to a White House fact sheet.
Biden’s remarks came at the inaugural meeting of the Interagency Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access, which he said was created with an earlier executive order “to ensure that every part of the federal government does its part at this critical moment where women’s health and lives are on the line amidst the chaos and uncertainty unleashed by this decision.” He gave some examples: “Emergency medical care being denied to women experiencing miscarriages, doctors uncertain about what they can do to provide for their patients, and pharmacists unsure whether they can fill prescriptions that they’ve always filled before.”
Attorney General Discusses Lawsuit Against Idaho
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said he was “thrilled” to be named co-chair of the task force. “I know we speak for so many people who are waiting for us to do everything we can since the Supreme Court’s misguided decision put the lives of millions of our fellow Americans at risk, and stripped away freedom and autonomy,” said Becerra. He listed several actions his agency had already taken, including launching the reproductiverights.gov website to inform people of their reproductive rights; issuing guidance to roughly 60,000 retail pharmacies about protecting patients from discrimination; and notifying all health insurance carriers about their obligation “to not discriminate in the dispensation of services and care to all patients.”
Also at the meeting, Attorney General Merrick Garland discussed a lawsuit the Justice Department filed on Tuesday against the state of Idaho over an anti-abortion law in that state that would criminally prosecute doctors who provided medically necessary abortions to women facing medical emergencies. “Idaho’s near total ban on abortion directly conflicts with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA),” Garland said.
“Federal law requires hospitals receiving Medicare funds to provide necessary stabilizing treatment to people suffering from an emergency medical condition,” he continued. “If a patient comes into an emergency room with a medical emergency jeopardizing the patient’s life or health, the hospital must provide the treatment necessary to stabilize that condition. This includes abortion when that is the necessary treatment.” He added that the Justice Department recently formed a Reproductive Rights Task Force to monitor similar state laws and take action against them as needed.
Kansas Voters Reject Anti-Abortion Amendment
Also on Tuesday, voters in Kansas overwhelmingly rejected — by a vote of 58.8% to 41.2% — a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have allowed the state legislature to ban abortion entirely with no exceptions for rape or incest. The proposed amendment read as follows: “Because Kansans value both women and children, the constitution of the state of Kansas does not require government funding of abortion and does not create or secure a right to abortion. To the extent permitted by the constitution of the United States, the people, through their elected state representatives and state senators, may pass laws regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, laws that account for circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or circumstances of necessity to save the life of the mother.”
Reaction to the vote was divided along the usual lines. “This vote came at a critical time as more and more states move to pass harmful, restrictive abortion bans,” Melissa Fowler, chief program officer at the National Abortion Federation, said Tuesday in a statement. “Today, Kansans can celebrate that their fundamental rights to basic health care and bodily autonomy are still protected by the state’s constitution.”
“Today is an enormous victory for people in Kansas who voted to protect their fundamental right to personal and bodily autonomy,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement Tuesday. “In 2019, the Supreme Court of Kansas recognized that the rights to self-determination and bodily autonomy are deeply rooted in Kansas history and values, and today the Kansas voters resoundingly agreed. Like the strong majority of people across the U.S., Kansans want to make their own decisions about abortion.”
On the other side of the issue, Mallory Carroll, spokeswoman for SBA Pro-Life America, an offshoot of the conservative group Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement Tuesday that the vote was “a huge disappointment for pro-life Kansans and Americans nationwide … Because of tonight’s results, Kansas could shortly become home to unrestricted abortion on demand — even late-term abortion without limits, paid for by taxpayers. The people and their elected legislators now have no recourse to use the tools of democracy to enact laws that reflect consensus.”
The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) also expressed disappointment. “Sadly, thousands and thousands of babies will die in Kansas,” the NRLC said in a statement Wednesday. The organization asserted that contrary to misinformation spread by its opponents, “pro-life legislation allows the removal of ectopic pregnancies and other procedures to save the life of the mother, the treatment of miscarriages, and does not impose any penalties on women who have abortions.”