WOMEN’S RIGHTS - With the U.S. Supreme Court expected to issue a ruling later this month that could overturn Roe v. Wade and imperil abortion rights nationwide, a group of 25 senators on Wednesday urged President Joe Biden to do all he can through executive action to protect reproductive freedoms at the federal level.
In a letter led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the lawmakers outlined six specific steps Biden could take to unilaterally defend abortion rights as legislative efforts to do so have failed in the face of opposition from the Senate GOP and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.).
"Democrats need to use every tool at their disposal to protect women and their constitutional right to an abortion," Warren said in a statement. "President Biden's executive authority to marshal the resources of the entire federal government is one of our most powerful tools. With an extremist Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, now is the time to act."
The half-dozen steps that the 24 Senate Democrats and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) suggest in the new letter are as follows:
- Increasing access to medication abortion. Federal agencies could take steps to increase the accessibility of medication abortion and ensure the wide availability of accurate information about medication abortion.
- Providing resources for individuals seeking abortion care in other states. Federal agencies could explore opportunities to provide vouchers for travel, childcare services, and other forms of support for individuals seeking to access abortion care that is unavailable in their home state.
- Establishing a reproductive health ombudsman at the Department of Health and Humans Services (HHS). A new ombudsman could educate the public and analyze data collected by HHS about access to reproductive services. For example, this office could gather information about insurers' coverage of reproductive health services (such as contraception); disseminate information about how individuals could connect with Title X clinics, reproductive health clinics, and abortion funds; and provide the public with safety information related to self-managed abortions outside formal medical settings.
- Enforcing "Free Choice of Provider" requirements. HHS could explore more aggressively enforcing federal requirements that guarantee Medicaid beneficiaries have the ability to seek family planning services from their provider of choice.
- Clarifying protections for sensitive health and location data. HHS' Office for Civil Rights could clarify how websites or mobile applications that collect information related to reproductive health (such as period trackers) should protect personally identifiable information and other sensitive data, especially given the risks presented by the sale of this data in states that criminalize reproductive decision-making.
- Using federal property and resources to increase access to abortion. The Department of Justice and all relevant agencies could analyze the types of reproductive health services that could be provided on federal property, especially in states where such services are limited by state law or regulation. The Department of Defense could assess the feasibility of moving military personnel and their families and any authority to ensure that members and their families can access reproductive healthcare when they need it. The Office of Personnel Management could explore requirements that all federal employees are provided paid time off and reimbursement for expenses necessary to access abortion. And all federal agencies—including those who retain custody or control over individuals or provide healthcare to them—could conduct a review of their regulations and policies that limit abortion care and other reproductive health services and promulgate new regulations that expand access to those services.
"These proposals are only starting points in a federal apparatus that affects millions of Americans every day," the senators stressed. "The entirety of the federal government must be engaged in the administration's efforts and must act as swiftly as possible."
Murray, the chair of the Senate health committee, said that with as many as 26 Republican-controlled states preparing to ban abortion as soon as the Supreme Court hands down its ruling, "this is an all-hands-on-deck moment to protect abortion rights."
"This is an all-hands-on-deck moment to protect abortion rights."
"With the Supreme Court likely to overturn Roe v. Wade any day now—fulfilling Republicans' radical, decades-long push to ban abortion—we need an all-of-government plan to protect every American's reproductive rights," said Murray.
"I pushed the Biden administration for a plan last month at a hearing," the Washington Democrat added, "and now I'm demanding that they step up to the plate: with Republicans continuing their nonstop attacks on the right to abortion, access to birth control, [in vitro fertilization], and so much more, Democrats must fight back with every lever we have to get women the care they need."
The mounting pressure on Biden to take executive action comes nearly a month after Manchin joined every Senate Republican in filibustering the Women's Health Protection Act, legislation that would have codified abortion rights into federal law.
Just two weeks after the Senate vote, Oklahoma became the first state in the U.S. to enact a total ban on abortion and other Republican-led states are expected to follow suit in the near future, emboldened by a recently leaked draft opinion indicating that the conservative-dominated Supreme Court is poised to strike down Roe.
"Anti-abortion politicians have introduced nearly 550 abortion restrictions in 42 states and passed radical laws completely banning abortion and placing bounties on providers offering medical services," the senators noted in their letter to Biden on Wednesday. "And if Roe v. Wade is gutted by this right-wing Supreme Court, Republican leaders have already signaled their next move: a nationwide ban on abortion in all 50 states."
"As extremist judges and Republican politicians intensify their efforts to strip Americans of their basic reproductive freedoms, you can demonstrate to the country and women everywhere that you will do everything in your power to fight back," the lawmakers added. "With each day that passes, this crisis will only worsen."
(Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams where this article was published)