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Biden to sign executive order to support abortion rights

Biden to sign executive order to support abortion rights

President Biden is planning to outline additional steps aimed at bolstering abortion rights on Friday morning, two weeks after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, as many Democrats have called on him to respond with bolder and more urgent action.

Biden, joined by Vice President Harris, plans to deliver a speech from the Roosevelt Room at the White House on his efforts to protect access to reproductive health-care services.

He is also planning to sign an executive order that, according to a statement released late Thursday by the White House, will attempt to safeguard access to abortion medication and emergency contraception, protect patient privacy and bolster legal options for those seeking access to such services.

The order directs Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to submit a report within 30 days that would address many of those items. Becerra is also charged with finding ways to increase public outreach so that those seeking reproductive health-care services, including abortion, know how to access them.

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In a nod to some of the legal battles that could come, Biden is also directing the attorney general and the White House counsel to convene private pro bono attorneys, bar associations, and public interest organizations to encourage legal representation for those seeking or offering reproductive health services.

“Such representation could include protecting the right to travel out of state to seek medical care,” according to the White House statement.

Legal assistance has been a chief concern among some abortion rights advocates. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.) urged the Biden administration on Thursday to “pull out all the stops,” point out legal obstacles that could prevent Michigan residents from seeking services in Canada or from bringing medication back from across the border.

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“In this perilous, precarious moment for women’s fundamental rights, we need to be creative and take bold action,” Whitmer said in a statement that accompanied a letter she sent to Biden administration officials. “We must lead.”

Another area that Biden’s executive order attempts to address is patient privacy. Biden is asking the chair of the Federal Trade Commission to consider taking steps to protect consumers’ privacy when they seek information about reproductive health services. HHS will also consider additional actions to prevent information about patients from being disclosed.

Biden is also establishing an interagency Task Force on Reproductive Health Care Access, which will coordinate throughout the government on other potential policies.

It’s not clear how much impact the actions will have–Biden’s proposals may not make medication abortion accessible in states that have banned abortion, for example. But advocates have been urging the president to at least try to fight back against abortion rights restrictions, rather than second-guessing them before making an attempt.

Biden’s actions come two weeks after the Supreme Court upended five decades of federal abortion rights, and he has faced growing criticism for not having a more urgent response.

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White House officials have defended his moves, pointing to an initial speech he gave in the aftermath of the decision and saying they were doing as much as they legally could.

But he has been accused of not using the moment to galvanize Democrats and not speaking regularly and forcefully. Some also say the White House seemed flat-footed despite having plenty of time to form a plan after a draft Supreme Court decision leaked nearly two months earlier.

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Last week, Biden called for overturning the filibuster to help codify abortion rights, but he has so far resisted other efforts that Democrats have been pushing him to adopt.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has pressed Biden to expand the Supreme Court, for example, but he has reaffirmed that he will not consider such a move. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has been among those calling on him to open federal lands to abortion clinics, a tactic the White House has rejected, saying it could jeopardize the safety of women who travel to the clinics.

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