Two weeks after the Supreme Court’s bombshell ruling to overturn the constitutional right to abortion, President Biden has signed an executive order to protect a woman’s access to reproductive health care services.
Although Biden has said the only way to secure a woman’s right to choose is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade as federal law, he said on Friday the administration is committed to defending reproductive rights and protecting access to a safe and legal abortion.
“Eliminating the right recognized in Roe has already had and will continue to have devastating implications for women’s health and public health more broadly,” Biden said in the executive order. “Access to reproductive health care services is now threatened for millions of Americans, and especially for those who live in states that are banning or severely restricting abortion care. Women’s health clinics are being forced to close—including clinics that offer other preventive health care services such as contraception—leaving many communities without access to critical reproductive health care services. Women seeking abortion care especially those in low-income, rural, and other underserved communities—now must travel to jurisdictions where services remain legal notwithstanding the cost or risks.”
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Safeguarding access to reproductive health care services, including abortion and contraception.
Biden has directed Xavier Becerra, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, to report to him within 30 days on efforts to protect access to medication abortion, ensure all patients have access to the full rights and protections of emergency medical care, expand access to a 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. The Affordable Care Act guarantees coverage of women’s preventive services, including free birth control and contraceptive counseling, for individuals and covered dependents in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Becerra has a directed the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to take every legally available step to ensure patient access to family planning care and to protect family planning providers.
The report next month will also include information on outreach and public education efforts regarding access to reproductive health care services—including abortion—to ensure that Americans have access to reliable and accurate information about their rights and access to care. In addition, the Attorney General and the White House Counsel will convene private pro bono attorneys, bar associations, and public interest organizations to encourage robust legal representation of patients, providers, and third parties lawfully seeking or offering reproductive health care services throughout the country. Such representation could include protecting the right to travel out of state to seek medical care.
Protecting the privacy of patients and their access to accurate information
In addition to the actions HHS has already taken to protect patient privacy, the executive order takes additional steps, including by addressing the transfer and sales of sensitive health-related data, combatting digital surveillance related to reproductive health care services, and protecting people seeking reproductive health care from inaccurate information, fraudulent schemes, or deceptive practices.
Biden has asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to consider taking steps to protect consumers’ privacy when seeking information about and provision of reproductive health care services. The President also has directed Becerra, in consultation with the attorney general and chair of the FTC, to consider options to address deceptive or fraudulent practices, including online, and protect access to accurate information. HHS will consider additional actions, including under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), to better protect sensitive information related to reproductive health care.
Promoting the safety and security of patients, providers, and clinics
The executive order aims to ensure the safety of patients, providers, and third parties, and to protect the security of other entities that provide, dispense, or deliver reproductive health care services. This charge includes efforts to protect mobile clinics, which have been deployed to borders to offer care for out-of-state patients.
Coordinating implementation efforts
The executive order establishes an interagency task force that is responsible for coordinating federal interagency policymaking and program development on reproductive health care access. The task force will be led by HHS and the White House Gender Policy Council and will include the attorney general, who will provide technical assistance to states affording legal protection to out-of-state patients as well as providers who offer legal reproductive health care.