It can be easy to feel hopeless since the Supreme Court took away our constitutional right to abortion, allowing states to strip millions of people of their access to this essential health care. But the Supreme Court leads only one of the three branches of our government — and the executive branch, led by President Joe Biden, aims to protect access to reproductive health care.
Here are five ways abortion access may be improved thanks to the executive branch.
Two executive orders to protect and defend access to abortion
These orders directed:
the launch of a public awareness initiative to combat misinformation and provide accurate information on patient rights to care and privacy;
the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to work with states to help people who have to travel out of state for their abortions;
HHS to gather research and data showing the effects of abortion restrictions on maternal health, which is already in crisis;
HHS to expand access to medication abortion.
The megaphone of the presidency
The administration’s platform can bring powerful people together in forceful and creative ways. The White House has organized several in-person meetings with key public officials and taken numerous actions to draw attention to the reproductive health care crisis, such as:
Meeting with governors from Rhode Island, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Colorado, Connecticut, New York, North Carolina, and New Mexico — who all acted quickly to protect women's access to abortion following the court ruling.
Signaling a resolve to protect and advance reproductive freedom by issuing statements of sharp disagreement with the Supreme Court’s decision through Attorney General Merrick Garland and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra;
Bringing Planned Parenthood affiliate CEOs into meetings between Vice President Kamala Harris and state legislators, and conducting visits by senior administration officials to Planned Parenthood affiliates.
Protected access to sexual and reproductive health care for veterans and veterans’ health beneficiaries
In early September, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) put into effect an interim final rule that allows the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to provide abortions to veterans and other VA beneficiaries in certain circumstances — such as rape, incest, or endangerment to the life or health of a pregnant person. Under this rule:
veterans will for the first time have access to abortion and abortion counseling through the VA; and
access to abortion and abortion counseling will also be protected for dependents who receive care through the VA’s Civilian Health and Medical Program.
The VA is also moving to propose a rule related to contraception and telehealth coverage for veterans’ dependents.
Task forces to keep sexual and reproductive health care at the forefront
Biden acted early in his presidency to establish the first ever White House Gender Policy Council to implement a strategy for gender equity — including sexual and reproductive health care — across federal agencies. The administration redoubled its efforts after the Supreme Court decision by:
establishing an Interagency Task Force on Reproductive Health Care Access to support the coordination and implementation of efforts across federal agencies;
creating an HHS task force on reproductive health care access by highlighting the laws, regulations, and policies that have put up barriers to abortion access for more than a decade;
creating a Department of Justice (DOJ) reproductive rights task force to monitor and evaluate state and local legislation and enforcement actions that threaten to infringe on federal legal protections or impair legally available care; and
continuing to enforce the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which prohibits interfering or attempting to interfere with obtaining or providing reproductive health services.
Online privacy protections
The White House, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and HHS have committed to fully enforce laws that prohibit the use and sharing of highly sensitive data — including information related to reproductive health, such as “products that track people’s periods, monitor their fertility, oversee their contraceptive use, or even target people considering abortion.”
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