- President Joe Biden signed an executive order to protect access to abortion and reproductive health services in the US
- The U.S. Supreme Court last month overturned the constitutional right to abortion.
- The order instructs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to identify feasible steps to protect and expand access to abortion care.
President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order aimed at protecting access to reproductive health care services in the United States.
The executive order comes two weeks after the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade, overturned the 1973 ruling establishing the constitutional right to abortion.
The executive order instructs the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to identify feasible steps to protect and expand access to abortion care, expand reproductive health care education and protect the safety and security of pregnant women.
The HHS will report back within 30 days and outline the steps they intend to take.
Although the executive order is an important step in helping to protect access to abortion care, the President cannot restore the constitutional right to abortion.
“The executive order indicates that the president cares a lot about the issue and wants to act, but also that his ability to do so is very limited,” said Sharona Hoffman, a professor of law and bioethics and co-director. of the Law-Medicine Center at Case Western Reserve University, told Healthline.
Without Roe, individual states will institute their own abortion policies.
As a result, millions of Americans will be banned from having an abortion in their communities. Clinics offering abortion care services will close, and pregnant people will be forced to travel long distances to access safe legal care.
The court’s ruling on Roe will disproportionately affect people of color, low-income individuals and those living in rural areas, reads a fact sheet on the executive order.
The executive order, although vague, aims to protect access to a range of reproductive health care services.
“It calls on the administration to consider measures to protect reproductive health, including access to federally-approved medication abortion pills, patient privacy and legal support for organizations and people seeking abortion across state borders,” Rev. Katey Zeh, the CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said.
Alison Gash, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Oregon, says the executive order will not significantly compensate for the lack of women’s reproductive access created by the court ruling in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Many of the provisions in the executive order focus on solutions to abortion policies.
“For example, to identify ways to maintain access to medication abortion for those in the early stages of their pregnancy. “Establishing guidance for medical providers so that individuals can receive an abortion if pregnancy becomes life-threatening,” Gash said.
According to Hoffman, there are many concerns about patient privacy because
“Law enforcement can sometimes obtain relevant information from web searches, purchase records, and other sources outside of health care providers,” Hoffman said, adding that states with abortion restrictions are generally aimed at prosecuting abortion providers rather than people receiving an abortion.
That said, there is no guarantee that certain states will not try to prosecute pregnant people seeking an abortion in the future.
According to Gash, without patient privacy, pregnant people who are vulnerable to supervision will be less likely to have access to health care – even for those who want to maintain their pregnancy.
“Any possibility that they could be criminalized if there is a bad pregnancy outcome could have a chilling effect on women seeking antenatal care – especially for low-income pregnant women or women of color who are already heavily monitored in health care settings, said Gash.
One of the executive order’s goals is to protect patient privacy and further protect relationships between patients and healthcare providers.
It hopes to issue new guidance on how HIPAA protects people’s sensitive health information and those seeking information on reproductive health care services.
“The executive order again offers no concrete protection. “It only asks the chairman of the FTC and the HHS secretary to consider actions to protect patient’s privacy,” Hoffman said.
Proponents of abortion rights have suggested that President Biden take additional steps, such as declaring an emergency for public health or expanding abortion services on federal or state territory, which are outside state law.
According to Gash, the president is still considering declaring the attack on abortion rights an emergency for public health – to address the staff and financial burdens experienced by clinics – but this could be accompanied by significant legal conflict.
Zeh says the president can also allocate resources to pregnant people who need to travel for care and make federally approved medication abortion available via telemedicine services everywhere, Zeh says.
“Hopefully, this executive order is a first step, and the president will continue to exercise his power to protect people who now need abortion care,” Zeh said.
And while Biden’s power is limited, Congress’s power is not – Congress can pass a law that keeps abortion legal, Hoffman says.
“People who feel strongly about reproductive rights should be sure to vote in the congressional election,” Hoffman said.
President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order aimed at protecting access to reproductive health care services in the United States. The executive order does not provide concrete steps, but instructs the HHS to identify actions to expand access to abortion care, expand education on reproductive health care services, and protect the safety and security of pregnant women. The HHS will report back within 30 days.