Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
WASHINGTON, July 8 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Friday to help safeguard women’s access to abortion and contraception after the Supreme Court last month overturned the Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion, the White House said.
Biden, a Democrat, has been under pressure from supporters, particularly progressives, to take action after the landmark decision, which upended roughly 50 years of protections for women’s reproductive rights.
The president’s powers are constrained, because U.S. states can make laws restricting abortion and access to medication, and the executive order is expected to have limited impact.
Biden will direct the Health and Human Services Department to take action to protect and expand access to “medication abortion” approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the White House said.
Experts have said a pill used to terminate early pregnancies is unlikely to become available without a prescription for years. States that already restrict the medication would not be affected by the presidential order.
He will also direct the department to ensure women have access to emergency medical care, family planning services, and contraception, including intrauterine devices (IUDs).
Biden’s attorney general and White House counsel will convene pro bono attorneys and other organizations to provide legal counsel for patients seeking an abortion as well as abortion providers.
“Such representation could include protecting the right to travel out of state to seek medical care,” the White House said in a statement.
The Supreme Court’s ruling restored states’ ability to ban abortion. As a result, women with unwanted pregnancies face the choice of traveling to another state where the procedure remains legal and available, buying abortion pills online, or having a potentially dangerous illegal abortion.
Biden, who is scheduled to give remarks on the issue at 11:30 a.m. EDT (1530 GMT), has condemned the court’s ruling. Conservatives and anti-abortion activists celebrated it.
The issue may help drive Democrats to the polls in the November midterm elections, when Republicans have a chance of taking control of Congress. Democrats have a slim majority in the House of Representatives and control the evenly divided Senate through Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote.
Biden’s executive order on Friday is also aimed at protecting patients’ privacy and ensuring safety for mobile abortion clinics at state borders, and it directs the establishment of a task force to coordinate the administration’s response on reproductive health care access, the White House said.
Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Edwina Gibbs, Heather Timmons and Deepa Babington
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.