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Biden signs executive order protecting abortion access


Brendan Smialowski | AFP

John Burger - published on 07/08/22

President says only two more pro-choice senators needed to codify Roe v. Wade in Congress.

Two weeks after the Supreme Court issued a decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, President Biden has directed a number of federal departments on ways to maintain women’s access to abortion.

The president on July 8 issued an “Executive Order Protecting Access to Reproductive Health Care Services,” calling it a stopgap measure until Congress can vote to codify the right to abortion nationwide that Roe had assured for almost 50 years.

In a noontime White House ceremony, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Beccera, Biden called on Americans to turn out in greater numbers on Election Day to respond to the court’s decision regarding abortion. 

“We need two more pro-choice senators” in order to pass a bill codifying Roe, he said. 

Dobbs v. Jackson, the ruling that the Supreme Court issued on June 24, effectively sent the decision on abortion’s legality back to the state level, where it had been prior to Roe, and legislatures in about half of the states have voted to ban or severely restrict abortion. On the other hand, some states have expanded access to the procedure. 

The high court decision “expressly took away a right from the American people that it had recognized for nearly 50 years – a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health care decisions, free from government interference,” said a White House fact sheet issued ahead of the executive order signing. “Fundamental rights – to privacy, autonomy, freedom, and equality – have been denied to millions of women across the country, with grave implications for their health, lives, and wellbeing. This ruling will disproportionately affect women of color, low-income women, and rural women.”

One aspect of Biden’s executive order is protecting access to so-called “medication abortion,” which has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a way to terminate pregnancies up to the 10th week. The procedure begins with taking mifepristone, which blocks the body’s supply of progesterone, the hormone needed by the unborn baby to grow normally. A second pill, misoprostol, is taken up to 48 hours later, causing cramping and bleeding to empty the uterus.

In 2021, early in the Biden Administration, the FDA permanently lifted the in-person dispensing requirement for medication abortion, allowing women to receive the drugs by mail after having an online health consultation.

Some women who live in a state where abortion is now illegal might try to travel to a state where it is legal, and several aspects of Biden’s executive order seek to protect their right to do so and shield them from prosecution in their home state. The order calls on the Justice Department to gather pro bono lawyers to represent women who encounter legal troubles in their pursuit of an abortion.

The executive order also seeks to “expand access to the full range of reproductive health services, including family planning services and providers, such as access to emergency contraception and long-acting reversible contraception like intrauterine devices (IUDs),” and to protect the flow of information online about abortion services. 

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