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Sign welcoming patients to abortion clinic

A sign welcoming patients from East Texas is displayed in the waiting area of the Women's Reproductive Clinic, which provides legal medication abortion services, in Santa Teresa, New Mexico on June 15, 2022. (Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden Order on Abortion Access Called 'Step In the Right Direction'

"We look forward to continuing to partner with the administration to defend our fundamental rights from ongoing extremist attacks," said the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Julia Conley

Abortion rights advocates on Wednesday applauded an executive action announced by President Joe Biden aimed at helping women in states that have banned and restricted abortions to travel across state lines to receive care, calling the order an "important step" to ensure access is protected.

The action included several orders directed at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), headed by Secretary Xavier Becerra.

With at least 10 states now banning abortion care following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade in June, people across the Southeast and parts of the Midwest are living in "abortion deserts," and many struggle to afford to be able to travel out of state to get care.

With this in mind, Biden directed HHS to:

  • Consider using Medicaid waivers to financially help women who cross state lines to get abortions;
  • Consider "all appropriate actions to ensure healthcare providers comply with federal nondiscrimination laws" so patients can receive abortion care without delay, including providing "technical assistance for healthcare providers who may be confused or unsure of their obligations in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision"; and
  • Evaluate and improve research, data collection, and data analysis efforts at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on maternal health and other health outcomes, in order to measure the impact of the Roe decision and abortion bans and restrictions.

The White House said the order clears the way for Becerra to allow states to apply for Section 1115 Medicaid waivers, which could cover certain costs incurred when people travel for abortion care.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters the order would particularly help low-income people and that it would not violate the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, with exceptions for pregnancies that occur as the result of rape or incest or that threaten the pregnant person's life.

"Medicaid provides comprehensive healthcare to women with low incomes," Jean-Pierre said at a press briefing. "This care includes family planning services such as contraception, nonemergency medical transportation, and support services like targeted case management, which allows healthcare providers to help patients coordinate their care, and it also includes abortion care in certain circumstances as excepted by the Hyde Amendment."

Physicians for Reproductive Health (PRH) said that while it will continue to push for "bold abortion justice" and the declaration of a national public health emergency as the right to terminate a pregnancy is threatened across the country, Biden's order is a "step in the right direction."

"The administration has affirmed patients' right to travel for abortion care," tweeted the group. "We love this."

The order is the second executive action Biden has taken since the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. The president signed an executive order in July to protect access to medication abortion and contraception, and take other steps to ensure people can still safely obtain care.

"I commit to the American people that we are doing everything in our power to safeguard access to healthcare, including the right to choose that women had under Roe v. Wade which was ripped away by this extreme court," said the president on Wednesday.

NARAL Pro-Choice America president Mini Timmaraju thanked Biden "for flexing the executive authority of his office to address the public health crises we face in post-Roe America."

"We look forward to continuing to partner with the administration to defend our fundamental rights from ongoing extremist attacks," she added.

PRH expressed hope that the Biden will continue taking "bold" steps to secure abortion justice for Americans by declaring a national public health emergency and by "saying 'abortion' frequently, and proudly," rather than euphemistic language including "reproductive health access" or "right to choose."

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