Two weeks to the day after the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, President Joe Biden’s White House announced an executive order intended to safeguard abortion access. The order would direct Health and Human Services to protect abortion and contraception access as well as emergency medical care for pregnant women. It would also convene a group of private volunteer lawyers and ensure the privacy of patients’ health records. “President Biden has made clear that the only way to secure a woman’s right to choose is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe as federal law,” the White House said in a statement. “Until then, he has committed to doing everything in his power to defend reproductive rights and protect access to safe and legal abortion.”
The White House says the order would also establish an interagency task force on reproductive care access that will include the attorney general and will be led by HHS and the White House Gender Policy Council. The order would build upon a series of actions already taken by the Biden administration in the wake of Dobbs, including supplying an additional $3 million to HHS-funded providers and clinics, ensuring paid leave for federal workers traveling for reproductive health care, and protecting access to such care for Department of Defense civilians, members of the military, and their families.
In the days since the court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, many in Biden’s party have called on the president to take swift action, particularly after a Democratic-led attempt to codify Roe into law earlier this year failed in the Senate. Some Democrats remain reluctant to change Senate rules, namely the filibuster, to pass protections along party lines. (Biden has since supported a carve-out to the filibuster specifically to protect abortion access.) Even before the Supreme Court issued its ruling, following the leak of a draft opinion to Politico, Biden said his administration was looking into the use of executive orders to protect women’s reproductive rights. “There’s some executive orders I could employ, we believe—we’re looking at that right now,” Biden said in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel last month.
Just within the two weeks since the ruling, more than a dozen states have either banned abortions in all or most cases or have bans set to take effect within the coming days or weeks. And eight other states have abortion bans that have been blocked by legal action.
But those within Biden’s own party have criticized him for not acting boldly enough to address these sudden losses of women’s rights. Lawmakers like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Elizabeth Warren have demanded the White House use federal lands to set up emergency abortion clinics, a proposal the White House said would have “dangerous ramifications.” Additionally, the administration decided against declaring a public health emergency to protect reproductive health access, according to a Bloomberg report citing individuals familiar with the decision making process. Biden has also been dogged by reports that he had allegedly planned to nominate an antiabortion judge to a lifetime appointment in a deal with Mitch McConnell on the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe.
The full repercussions of the Dobbs ruling have yet to come into focus. The political landscape regarding abortion access across the country is shifting every day, leaving more than half the country in limbo. And with Roe overturned, antiabortion lawmakers are seizing an opportunity to restrict women’s access to reproductive health services, introducing legislation that, for example, not only eclipses banning abortion but goes as far as criminalizing women who have abortions and those who provide them. But to what extent the Biden administration’s executive order will mitigate the draconian laws being introduced remains to be seen.
Biden is expected to speak from the Roosevelt Room alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra Friday morning to sign the executive order.