President Joe Biden is shown in a file photo from Nov. 12, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden, who has repeatedly been criticized as slow to respond to a widely expected U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended the nationwide right to an abortion, signed an executive order Friday that could preserve some access to abortion in states where the procedure remains legal.
Biden in a White House speech also brought up the case of a 10-year-old rape survivor from Ohio who was forced to travel out of state to access abortion care in Indiana, questioning if that’s actually the will of a majority of the state’s residents.
“Does anyone believe that it’s Ohio’s majority view that that should not be able to be dealt with? Or in any other state in the nation? A 10-year-old girl should be forced to give birth to a rapist’s child?” Biden said. “I can tell you that I don’t. I can’t think of anything that’s much more extreme.”
Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine declined to comment on the state law’s impact in the case this week, saying he had read about it in the paper. He did say he found it “gut-wrenching” that a man raped a child.
Biden, who began his speech from the White House’s Roosevelt Room more than 30 minutes late by talking about the morning’s jobs report, said the fastest way to reestablish nationwide protections for abortion is by voting in November’s midterm election.
“Based on the reasoning of the court, there is no constitutional right to choose — the only way to fulfill and restore that right from women in this country is by voting,” Biden said. “We need two additional pro-choice senators and a pro-choice House to codify Roe at federal law.”
Biden acknowledged the frustration and anger many abortion rights advocates and Democrats expressed after he gave a speech the day of the Supreme Court decision, calling on Americans to vote on the issue in November.
He doubled down on that message during his remarks Friday, saying the Supreme Court opinion in the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, “made clear it will not protect the rights of women.”
“It’s my hope and strong belief that women will in fact turn out in record numbers to reclaim the rights that have taken from them by the court,” Biden said, opting not to call on men, who are needed for pregnancy to take place, to turn out at the ballot box.
Biden’s executive order would direct the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary to make sure abortion medication “is as widely accessible as possible,” according to a White House fact sheet.
The president has also “asked the Chair of the Federal Trade Commission to consider taking steps to protect consumers’ privacy” when seeking information about abortion services and will request HHS “consider additional actions” to protect “sensitive information related to reproductive health care.”
As part of those efforts, the administration has posted websites to try to help patients protect information their cell phones may store about reproductive health care and about the type of health care records that are protected under the federal law known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
The White House is hoping to combat misinformation that has become more common since the Supreme Court’s ruling, with Biden directing the HHS secretary, the attorney general and chair of the Federal Trade Commission “to consider options to address deceptive or fraudulent practices, including online, and protect access to accurate information.”
The executive order, Biden said, would direct the federal government to look into tech privacy.
“Now when you use a search engine, or the app on your phone, companies collect your data, they sell it to other companies and even share it with law enforcement,” Biden said. “There’s an increasing concern that extremist governors and others will try to get that data off of your phone, which is out there in the ether, to find what you’re seeking, where you’re going and what you’re doing with regard to health care.”
House to vote on abortion access
The Democratic-controlled U.S. House is set to vote on two bills next week addressing abortion access, though it’s unlikely either will get past the U.S. Senate’s legislative filibuster.
The first bill, the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022, would reestablish a nationwide right to an abortion. The second bill, the Ensuring Access to Abortion Act of 2022, would block state governments from making abortion travel illegal and protect health care providers in states where the procedure remains legal.
Congress is also slated to have a series of hearings on the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, including next week in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee as well as the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panel.
Washington state Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, chair of the HELP panel, said in a written statement Friday following Biden’s speech that while the executive order is an important step, the “fight is far from over.”
“The reality is that the President’s executive authority is limited — so the surest way to protect every woman’s right to abortion is electing two more pro-choice Democratic senators and protecting our pro-choice majority in the House so that we can codify Roe,” Murray said.
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