President Joe Biden issued an executive order directing his secretary of health to consider taking steps to support patients traveling out of state for abortion care.
The president’s directive — his second to bolster federal support for reproductive health after the US Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion — comes as state anti-abortion lawmakers craft severe restrictions on care following the ruling.
His latest request on Aug. 3 directs U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra to consider allowing states with legal access to abortion to use Medicaid exemptions to support low-income out-of-state patients forced to travel to their homes. care.
The order also directs the secretary to “consider all appropriate actions” to ensure health care professionals comply with federal non-discrimination laws “so that women receive necessary medical care without delay.” It also guides the secretariat to improve the collection of data on maternal health.
“Women’s health and lives are at stake,” Biden said, virtually addressing his government’s newly formed reproductive rights task force as it continues its Covid-19 isolation.
“Emergency medical care being denied to women who have had miscarriages, doctors uncertain about what they can do to provide for their patients, pharmacists not sure they can fill prescriptions they always filled before,” Biden said, characterizing the state of care at the hospital. abortion. a national health crisis.
In the month after the Supreme Court’s decision, at least 10 states banned abortion in nearly all cases, while several state restrictions are embroiled in lengthy legal battles, including a US Department of Justice lawsuit against Idaho’s abortion ban.
After Congress failed to promote sweeping abortion rights protections, advocates urged the president to declare a federal health emergency, loosen remaining restrictions on prescription abortion pills, open federal land and health centers to providers, and apply all weight of federal agencies against attempts to prosecute providers and people who “help and encourage” abortion care.
Instead, the president called on the health secretary to find ways to ensure that Americans can continue to have access to care, acknowledging that there is little the federal government can do to block state laws.
The Justice Department, a fleet of legal experts and the government’s newly created task force are also reviewing anti-abortion measures and warning states about their obligations to provide emergency abortion care and medication.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said the agency will also try to file a lawsuit in Texas aimed at preventing the Biden administration from forcing hospitals to provide emergency abortion care.
Health and Human Services has also issued guidance for healthcare professionals to comply with federal non-discrimination laws and laws governing emergency care. Federal agencies have also warned states that they cannot ban federally approved abortive drugs based on their spurious assessments of their effectiveness or safety.
The government “will do everything in our power, in our ability, based on our role, to ensure that we protect American women for some of the most intimate decisions any human being can make,” according to Vice President Kamala Harris. .
“People are scared. When they look at these laws being passed…they get worried, they get confused,” she said. “There is a need for clarity around the rights of individuals and states at this time.”
Garland said the state-level ban on abortion has “devastating consequences” for women’s health and civil rights.
“We know that the damage caused by these laws has been and will continue to be especially severe for people of color and of limited means,” he said.
The Justice Department will be “relentless” in its efforts to protect abortion care, he said.