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President Biden signed an executive order today designed to protect access to medication abortion and contraception. The president has been under pressure from reproductive justice advocates and other Democrats who have criticized him for not taking more action after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24.
White House Gender Policy Director Jen Klein tells Marie Claire that the Biden administration has had dozens of meetings with multiple stakeholders to talk about reproductive rights in the last few weeks. The administration has met with doctors, healthcare providers, privacy experts, advocates, government officials, Planned Parenthood, and independent clinics. When asked if Biden has met recently with people who have had abortions to hear their stories, Klein said he has not, but that people on his staff (including Klein herself) have.
“We are being incredibly careful and analyzing every option,” says Klein. “We run down every option. The fact is there literally has not been anything that has been proposed by an advocate or a member of Congress that we haven’t considered.”
Before signing the executive order, Biden called the Supreme Court’s decision “terrible” and “extreme” and reiterated that people need to “vote, vote, vote, vote.” His order directs his secretary of health and human services (HHS), Xavier Becerra, to come back in 30 days with steps that can be taken to ensure access to medication abortion, contraception, and emergency medical care. The executive order touches on a need for additional HIPAA guidance and better patient protections, and seeks to convene volunteer lawyers to represent “patients, providers, and third parties lawfully seeking or offering reproductive health care services.”
The president also called for an interagency Task Force on Reproductive Health Care Access. Biden’s order asks the chair of the Federal Trade Commission to consider how to protect consumers’ privacy when seeking reproductive health care services.
As reproductive justice advocates wait to see how this executive order will play out, specifically, frustration persists for some Democrats who argue more needs to be done—in particular for pregnant people seeking abortions who can’t travel and live in states where the procedure is banned or extremely restricted.
Responding to Marie Claire's questions about what support is being considered for people who can’t travel for financial reasons, Klein says: “That is mostly being considered by non-governmental organizations. The philanthropy and the private sector is really stepping up to fund travel and they will continue to do that." She adds, "We don’t, at the moment, have a plan in place to be able to fund transportation.”
After a follow-up about how the administration will address cases of people like incarcerated individuals, who won’t be able to travel even if they secure funding, Klein says that they are looking into "everything." As for undocumented immigrants who may be prevented from access due to the risk of border check points, the White House will remain “vigilant” about how people are being restricted from travel, Klein says. “I would say that really no, no, no option and no action is off the table.”
In the wake of Dobbs, there have been reports of people being denied access to mifeprostone, a pill used in medication abortion, either because a doctor or pharmacist is nervous or receiving legal counsel not to prescribe or fill the medication. “Women are being told to wait until they’re ‘really sick’ at which point the pill can be given,” says Klein.
She points to Attorney General Merrick Garland’s recent comments about medication abortion: “The FDA has approved the use of the medication Mifepristone. States may not ban Mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy.”
Klein asserts that today’s executive order “takes the next step” toward figuring out what can be done to ensure that medication abortion is available and accessible. In the meantime, the battles continue to play out on the state-level as doctors, attorneys, and pregnant people attempt to navigate the new landscape of reproductive rights.
This story has been updated.
Lorena O'Neil is a reporter and photojournalist based in New Orleans covering reproductive health, gender, culture, and politics. She has written for The Atlantic, Elle, Esquire, Jezebel, and NPR.
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