President Biden on Wednesday will sign a second executive order to protect access to abortion in response to the Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
However, the latest executive order is vague on how Mr. Biden intends to achieve this aim, leaving it up to Health and Human Secretary Xavier Becerra to “consider” ways to ensure women can still access abortion services.
The order directs Mr. Becerra to “consider” bolstering protections for women traveling out of state for abortion services, including through Medicaid.
It also orders Mr. Becerra to take actions to ensure health care providers are complying with federal non-discrimination laws, though it does not specify which steps he could take to do this.
A senior administration official told reporters that it would include providing technical assistance and conveying information to abortion providers who may be unsure of their obligations in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
The order also directs the HHS to collect data on maternal health outcomes to “accurately measure the impact” diminishing access to abortion will have on women’s health.
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Nothing in the order specifies which actions Mr. Becerra should take or consider.
Mr. Biden will sign the executive order later Wednesday at the first meeting of the administration’s interagency Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access.
After Mr. Biden signs the order, Cabinet officials will report on the progress of the task force that was formed last month.
The latest executive action, Mr. Biden’s second in as many months, falls far short of demands from abortion rights advocates who have already blasted the president for not countering the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Abortion advocates have urged Mr. Biden to declare a public health emergency, which would ensure that abortion pills can still be prescribed in states where abortion is illegal.
They have also called on him to open up federal lands for abortion services, but the White House has dismissed the idea, saying it has “dangerous ramifications.”
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An executive order issued last month was widely panned by pro-choice activists for failing to include concrete actions.
That order also largely left the details up to Mr. Becerra to find ways to ensure access to abortion medication and emergency contraception. It also asked the chair of the Federal Trade Commission to “consider actions” to protect the privacy of patients seeking abortions.
Still, the White House has taken a few steps to restore abortion access, including affirming that employees can use sick leave to get an abortion.
The Defense Department said it will continue providing covered abortions to military personnel, defense civilians, and eligible family members. The U.S. Postal Service pledged not to crack down on mail-order abortion pills, even in states where the drugs are prohibited.
On Tuesday, the Biden administration filed a lawsuit against Idaho for restricting abortion access for patients who need lifesaving medical treatment.