The White House finally got around to doing something about the Roe decision. But its action mostly amounts to “try harder to do what the government was already doing, and also please vote.”
Despite lots of hand-wringing and expressed concern over the decision by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and end protections for abortion care, Democrats have largely done nothing to actually protect the right to choose. Finally, weeks later, the Biden administration has decided to do something: On Friday, President Biden signed an executive order to expand access to abortion pills and birth control.
First, what the executive order won’t do: It won’t restore abortion rights, nor will it undo some of the harshest and most restrictive abortion laws in the country, which states have triggered since the repeal of Roe. Instead, it will direct the Department of Health and Human Services to take new steps to protect access to abortion medication, as well as emergency medical care and contraception. It will also look to establish a legal effort to protect patients seeking abortion care and doctors who provide it.
The order will provide additional protection to abortion pills, like misoprostol and mifepristone, that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as available to be sent through the mail, despite some states’ attempts to restrict access to them. The same protections will be extended to emergency contraception like Plan B and long-acting reversible contraception like IUDs.
Additionally, the order will create a new emphasis on protecting the personal information of abortion seekers. It offers guidance to medical providers that they are not required to disclose any of their patients’ private information to law enforcement. The Biden administration also announced that it will convene volunteer lawyers who will work to protect people who seek abortion services if they’re facing prosecution.
While these protections are essential, it’s also basically just saying the federal government will try harder to do the things that it is already doing. Beyond that, the rest of the executive order is aimed at exploring other options that might make a significant difference. Among the things that the administration will “consider”: new rules to protect the information of people who use period tracking apps, and new protections for doctors performing abortions in emergency situations.
Basically, they’ll think about it, but no promises.
The Biden administration will want to do its thinking on these matters as fast as possible, because the consequences of the Supreme Court decision are already taking effect. Some states have already sought to prosecute abortion providers, and people in desperate need of care are being denied it because of concerns over the law. In his remarks before signing the order, Biden still framed the issue as one of voting, playing up the importance of his veto power and reminding people there’s an election in the fall. Which, he’s not wrong, there is an election in the fall — but there’s also a crisis right now, and people voted for him two falls ago to fix it.