President Biden signs an executive order protecting access to reproductive health care

President Joe Biden signed an executive order that protects access to reproductive health care services, including abortion and contraception; protects patient privacy; promotes the safety of patients, providers, and clinics, and establishes an interagency task force dedicated to policymaking and programs that strengthen reproductive rights.

The executive order directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to “take additional action to protect and expand access to abortion care, including access to medication that the FDA approved as safe and effective over twenty years ago.” It also directs HHS to “take additional actions to expand access to . . . emergency contraception and long-acting reversible contraception like intrauterine devices.”

The order points out that the Affordable Care Act already guarantees coverage of these services and suggests the administration will fight efforts by states to prohibit access to these contraceptives. The order also reiterates the administration’s position that Americans must be free to travel to other states to obtain abortions and pledges to fight attempts by states to diminish this right.

“The order doesn’t spell out exactly what steps the administration is prepared to take to protect people’s access to care,” said Cary Franklin, Faculty Director of the Center on Reproductive Health, Law, and Policy. “There’s still a big question about how far the federal government will go in attempting to preempt state restrictions on medication abortion, for instance — and what it will do — or what it can do — to protect people’s right to travel to obtain abortions in other states.”

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that the federal Constitution does not protect the right to abortion.

As a result of the decision, the legality of abortion will now be decided on a state-by-state basis, with 26 states either certain or very likely to ban abortion. These laws will leave more than half of the country’s women and people who can get pregnant without access to basic health care in their state. The impacts of these laws will be felt the most by individuals who already face difficulties accessing reproductive health care, including Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, low-income people, and LGBTQ individuals.

According to an analysis by UCLA Law Center on Reproductive Health, Law, and Policy, more than 10,000 additional people will travel to California each year for abortion care as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision. Over half of those, approximately 6,000 people, will come to Los Angeles County specifically. This impact will likely not be felt all at once, but the number of people traveling to California will grow as criminalization for abortion care increases and clinics close in many states.

“Hopefully, this order will prompt HHS and other federal agencies to develop a robust response to state attacks on reproductive healthcare,” said CRHLP Faculty Director Cary Franklin. “But what the president said remains true: The best way to ensure abortion rights is through the ballot box. It is critically important that Americans concerned about the restrictions being passed by anti-abortion states make phone calls, send postcards, support candidates, and cast votes in November. Those actions will empower federal lawmakers to help the vulnerable people being harmed by this crackdown on reproductive healthcare.”

About The Center on Reproductive Health, Law, and Policy
The Center on Reproductive Health, Law, and Policy is an interdisciplinary, national academic research center dedicated to training the next generation of reproductive health and rights leaders while producing research-informed strategies to transform current debates.

The Center on Reproductive Health, Law and Policy, Academic Research Center, Special to Lassen News