Senate Democrats are demanding that President Joe Biden immediately craft and sign an executive order to protect access to reproductive health care, including abortions, as conservatives across the country escalate their attacks on reproductive rights.
In a letter sent to Biden on Tuesday, a group of Democrats led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) highlighted steps that the president has the authority to take in order to protect abortion rights — moves that they say are only starting points for the federal government to combat the likely impending overturn of Roe v. Wade and the restrictions on health care like birth control that could come with it.
“We write to urge you to immediately issue an executive order directing the federal government to develop a national plan to defend Americans’ fundamental reproductive rights, including their right to an abortion,” the lawmakers said. “[A]s President of the United States, you have the unique power to marshal the resources of the entire federal government to respond.”
Lawmakers outlined six steps that the federal government can take, including increasing access to abortion medications and undertaking a review to determine whether or not abortion care and other reproductive services could be conducted on federal property.
They urged Biden to direct agencies to explore resources like vouchers for those who have to travel out of state to obtain an abortion, enforce federal programs like Medicaid to cover abortion and other family care services, and clarify laws surrounding abortion seekers’ privacy when it comes to data collection technology and sales.
Biden should also create a new office for an ombudsman at the Department of Health and Human Services to collect and disseminate information to the public about how they can access reproductive care clinics and abortion funds, they said.
The letter was signed by 25 senators, including Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), among others.
While the lawmakers praised the Biden administration for launching a “whole-of-government response” to Texas’s dangerous abortion ban, “the dramatic escalation of attacks on abortion access — spearheaded by right-wing justices, lawmakers, and activists — demands comprehensive and creative strategies from every corner of the federal government,” they wrote.
Indeed, abortion rights activists say that Biden could be doing more to protect abortion access; in addition to taking moves like the ones the Democrats have suggested, they say, he could also have the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lift restrictions on abortion pills so that they can be obtained by mail and prescribed via a telemedicine appointment. Activists have also been frustrated by Biden’s relative silence on abortion in his time in office.
Biden has said that executive guidance, if it ever comes, would be ready to launch as soon as the Supreme Court officially rules against Roe v. Wade, as a draft decision that was leaked last month indicated they are planning to do. But reporting has found that White House officials think they may be limited in their options when it comes to protecting abortion care, and they fear that any potential executive orders would be challenged by Republican lawmakers and get tied up in court.
The lawmakers argue that using executive authority on reproductive rights could send a message to right wing detractors and those who support abortion rights.
“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,” they wrote. (The population of people who can become pregnant and seek an abortion is not limited to just women but also includes people of other genders.)
The House recently passed a bill that would enshrine abortion rights into federal law and override state abortion bans, but the bill was blocked in the Senate, failing to overcome a filibuster with all 50 Republicans and conservative Democrat Joe Manchin (West Virginia) voting against it.