Biden signs executive order on abortion access amid pressure from Democrats

Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court took away nationwide abortion rights.

July 8, 2022, 1:14 PM

Two weeks after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order aimed at protecting access to abortion nationwide despite efforts by some states to outlaw or severely restrict it.

Speaking from the Roosevelt Room of the White House alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Biden decried the court's decision two weeks ago as "extreme" and "totally wrong."

The president also urged women, specifically, to practice their "political power" by showing up to vote in record numbers this November, stating it's the "fastest way" to reverse the court's ruling by giving congressional Democrats the majorities they need to the codify abortion rights into federal law.

"This isn't some imagined horror," Biden said. "It is already happening. Just last week, it was reported that a 10-year-old girl was a rape victim -- 10 years old -- and she was forced to have to travel out of state to Indiana to seek to terminate the pregnancy and maybe save her life."

"Imagine being that little girl," he continued. "I'm serious, just imagine being that little girl."

The executive action comes as Biden faces pressure from his fellow Democrats to take more forceful action, especially since the decision handed down by the high court on June 24 was leaked in early May.

His order largely finalizes what has already been announced by the administration -- including instructions to the Justice Department to make sure women can travel out-of-state for abortion care.

The order addresses the elevated risks for patients, providers and clinics, which includes efforts to protect mobile clinics that have been deployed to state borders to offer care for out-of-state patients.

Biden's action, the White House said, directs Attorney General Merrick Garland and the White House counsel to convene volunteer lawyers and organizations to "encourage robust legal representation of patients, providers, and third parties lawfully seeking or offering reproductive health care services throughout the country."

Biden has also said he'll provide leave for federal workers traveling for medical care, which could set an example for private companies to do the same.

Amazon, Starbucks and other corporations have already announced expanded health benefits to pay for their employees' travel fees if they are seeking an abortion and the procedure is unavailable near where they live.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden signs an executive order to help safeguard women's access to abortion and contraception at The White House, July 8,2022, in Washington.S/Kevin Lamarque
President Joe Biden signs an executive order to help safeguard women's access to abortion and contraception at The White House, July 8,2022, in Washington. Vice President Kamala Harris, left, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco stand at his side.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Biden is also ordering the Department of Health and Human Services to take "additional action to protect and expand" access to medication abortion, emergency contraception and IUDs.

The agency is instructed to increase outreach and public education efforts regarding access to reproductive health care services -- abortion included -- to get reliable information to the public.

Patient privacy is another part of Biden's order, which takes additional measures to address the transfer and sale of sensitive health-related data, combat digital surveillance related to reproductive health care services and protects people from fraudulent and deceptive practices.

Last week, Democratic governors urged Biden to use federal facilities and land for abortion services.

"What am I talking about? Veterans hospitals, military bases and other places where the federal government controls the jurisdiction in some of the states that are hostile to women's rights, and make sure that those services can be available to other women," New York Gov. Kathy Hochul suggested.

The White House didn't seem too enthusiastic about the idea, stating it could have "dangerous ramifications." The suggestion will not be included in Biden's executive order.

Also not included in Biden's action are several proposals by advocates, including Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's recommendation this week that the administration make clear Americans can legally transport the abortion pill across the U.S.-Canadian border.

Biden says it's ultimately up to Congress to codify Roe into law, and that he'd sign any bill sent to his desk immediately.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Friday the lower chamber will vote next week to pass a bill that will give women across the nation the right to an abortion. The House passed this legislation last September, but it failed in the Senate in May.

Any effort by Democrats to make Roe federal law would likely stall in the Senate, where they would need 10 Republican votes.

Biden suggested a filibuster carveout to enshrine abortion rights in federal law, but two Democratic senators -- Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema -- are opposed to changing the longstanding Senate rule.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks about abortion access ahead of a signing an executive order in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, July 8, 2022, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks about abortion access ahead of a signing an executive order in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, July 8, 2022, in Washington.
Evan Vucci/AP

The president called on women to turn out in record numbers this November to elect more Democrats who support abortion rights. Reading directly from the court's majority opinion, Biden emphasized that "women are not without electoral or political power."

"You, the women of America, you determine the outcome of this issue," Biden said.

Biden delivered strong words condemning the court and the Republican Party, warning that a slew of other unenumerated privacy rights -- such as same-sex marriage and contraception -- could be at risk.

"We cannot allow an out-of-control Supreme Court working in conjunction with extremist elements in the Republican Party to take away freedoms and our personal autonomy," Biden said.