On Friday morning, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that aims to protect abortion rights.
The executive action comes two weeks week after the Supreme Court voted to strike down Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that gave women constitutional abortion rights.
The executive order prompts the Health and Human Services, or HHS, Secretary Xavier Becerra to take several steps to support abortion access. It pushes for access to medication abortion, which is FDA-approved and currently only obtainable through the approval of healthcare providers. It also expands access to reproductive health services, like emergency contraception medications and birth control measures like the IUD.
On top of these physical measures, the order includes guidelines for the HHS to protect the medical and digital privacy of abortion-seeking patients. The HHS will increase outreach and public education efforts in regard to reproductive health services. The order also establishes a task force between the HHS and the White House Gender Policy council.
The order convenes volunteer lawyers who will work to represent people seeking reproductive health care. A fact sheet released by the White House says that "such representation could include protecting the right to travel out of state to seek medical care.” The White House reinforced its position that patients are free to travel to another state to seek the reproductive care they need.
The HHS must submit a report in the next 30 days that demonstrate they have implemented the provisions of Biden’s order.
On Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked the federal government to protect Michigan residents who might seek reproductive healthcare in Canada.
Whitmer's request comes in response to a current legal uncertainty when it comes to rules on importing drugs.
According to the Food and Drug Administration's website, “In most circumstances, it is illegal for individuals to import drugs into the United States for personal use.”
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection's website states that travelers can bring prescription medication across the border with a doctor’s prescription.
While Biden does not have the power to restore the rights that Roe v. Wade guaranteed, abortion-rights advocates have been calling on the White House to do more for abortion access.
“After the recent US Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Michiganders need to know that they can access the reproductive health care and prescription medication they need,” Whitmer said in a press release. “That is why I wrote to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security, urging them to immediately issue guidance clarifying that no legal obstacle prevents Michiganders from seeking reproductive health care in Canada or from bringing prescription medication secured in Canada back to the United States. I will continue fighting like hell to protect access to abortion and other reproductive care in Michigan, and I encourage the federal government to pull out all the stops to ensure that Michiganders can access care in Canada if they need to. In this perilous, precarious moment for women’s fundamental rights, we need to be creative and take bold action. We must lead.”
Biden has previously urged people to vote for elected officials that will support federal abortion rights legislation.
The executive order does not grant the progressive request to allow abortion providers to work from federal property in states where abortions are banned.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that there would be “dangerous ramifications” to this.
“We understand the proposal is well-intentioned, but here's the thing: It could actually put women and providers at risk,” Jean-Pierre said. “In states where abortion is now illegal, women and providers who are not federal employees, as you look at the federal land, could be potentially ... prosecuted.
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