President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Friday to protect “access to reproductive health care services.”
The executive order comes two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
Speaking from the Roosevelt Room of the White House alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Biden said the Supreme Court’s decision was “extreme” and “totally wrong.”
“This isn’t some imagined horror,” Biden said. “It is already happening. Just last week, it was reported that a 10-year-old girl was a rape victim — 10 years old — and she was forced to have to travel out of state to Indiana to seek to terminate the pregnancy and maybe save her life.”
“Imagine being that little girl,” he continued. “I’m serious, just imagine being that little girl.”
The president has publicly acknowledged that he is limited in his options to expand abortion access because of the court ruling, as it returned the authority to allow, limit, or ban abortions to each state.
Instead, the executive order aims to protect access to “medication abortion” and emergency contraception, protect patient privacy, launch public education efforts, and protect those seeking and providing abortion services from potential penalties.
President Biden is directing the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department to protect and expand access to abortion medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration, according to a White House fact sheet about the executive order. The presidential order will not affect states that already restrict the medication.
The presidential executive order also directs HHS to ensure women have access to emergency medical care, family planning services, and contraception, including intrauterine devices (IUDs).
Additionally, Attorney General Merrick Garland and White House counsel are instructed to assemble a group of volunteer attorneys and other organizations to “encourage robust legal representation of patients, providers, and third parties lawfully seeking or offering reproductive health care services throughout the country.”
“Such representation could include protecting the right to travel out of state to seek medical care,” the White House said.
The executive order also directs HHS to educate medical providers and insurers about how and when they are required to share privileged patient information with authorities.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is tasked with protecting the privacy of those seeking information about topics such as abortion procedures or medications online, per the order.
Additionally, the order directs the HHS and FTC to address “deceptive or fraudulent practices, including online, and protect access to accurate information.”
Though the executive order pushes the Justice Department and HHS to defend abortion seekers and providers in court, it does not guarantee that the judicial system will rule in their favor in any potential prosecution brought by states that have outlawed abortion.
Anti-abortion public officials such as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have made clear that they intend to prosecute those seeking, providing, or enabling abortions.
“I will strictly enforce [Texas’ anti-abortion] law,” Paxton wrote in an advisory issued after Roe’s overturn. “Further, we will assist any local prosecutor who pursues criminal charges. Additionally, state licensing authorities are required to revoke any applicable license or permit of a health care professional who performs or attempts to perform an abortion in violation of the [Human Life Protection] Act.”
Other opponents of abortion immediately criticized Biden’s executive order on Friday, claiming the president was seeking a way to subvert the Supreme Court’s decision.
“In obvious defiance of the Supreme Court’s decision and to surrender to abortion extremists, President Biden is futilely attempting to maintain his grip on an issue that is no longer a federal one,” said Chelsey Youman, the national legislative adviser for anti-abortion policy group Human Coalition Action.
Another anti-abortion official claimed that the president’s stance on the issue does not reflect the beliefs of U.S. citizens.
“Democrats are out of touch with the American people,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said after Biden’s statements.
Meanwhile, some Democrats have criticized the president for not acting more aggressively to protect abortion access.
Last week, Democratic governors urged Biden to use federal facilities and land to provide abortion services in states where the procedure is outlawed.
“What am I talking about? Veterans hospitals, military bases, and other places where the federal government controls the jurisdiction in some of the states that are hostile to women’s rights, and make sure that those services can be available to other women,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul suggested.
The White House did not support the idea, with Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying it would cause “dangerous ramifications.”
Other Democratic officials called for Biden to expand the number of seats on the Supreme Court, including Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, as well as Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts.
Biden has said he does not support the Supreme Court’s expansion, however.
“That is something that the president does not agree with,” Jean-Pierre said. “That is not something that he wants to do.”
Still, since the May 24 decision, President Biden has stressed that “the fastest way to restore” abortion access is through congressional action.
“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. “Until then, he has committed to doing everything in his power to defend reproductive rights and protect access to safe and legal abortion.”
With a 50-50 split in the Senate, Democrats would need 10 votes from Republican senators to avoid a filibuster and codify abortion access into federal law.
Biden has said that he supports carving out an exception to the filibuster if it stands in the way of codifying Roe, but Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema do not support modifying the longstanding Senate rule.
“But right now, we don’t have the votes to change the filibuster. That means we need to elect more Democratic senators and reelect our House majority in November to get this bill to my desk,” President Biden said.