Biden announces steps to protect abortion access, but advocates urge him to do more

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WASHINGTON – Facing pressure from his party to act more aggressively to safeguard abortion access, President Joe Biden on Friday announced steps his administration is taking, including protecting access to medication and making legal representation available to women who choose to travel out of state for the procedure.

Advocacy groups have pressed for strong action, such as a declaration of a public health emergency and leasing federal property to abortion providers, since the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Biden has resisted such moves.

“This is a moment – the moment – the moment to restore the rights that have been taken away from us and the moment to protect our nation from an extremist agenda,” Biden said in the White House Roosevelt Room before signing an executive order that outlines the steps his administration will take.

Biden's order instructs the Department of Health and Human Services to protect and expand access to abortion care, including access to medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration as safe and effective for over 20 years.

The order tasks the department with expanding access to reproductive health services, including family planning and providers, emergency contraception and long-acting reversible contraception such as intrauterine devices, according to a fact sheet distributed by the White House.

The administration promised to increase outreach and public education on abortion and to ensure the safety of patients and providers, including mobile clinics sent to borders to provide care for out-of-state patients.

An advocacy group pushing to restore and sustain public insurance said Biden's actions don't go far enough.

"We are glad to see the White House start to implement a whole of government approach to abortion access, but this plan, which the White House committed to months ago, is both late and not enough," said Morgan Hopkins, interim executive director of campaigns and strategies at All* Above All.

Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, praised Biden’s order as a “really strong next step" but said she wants to see what specific actions the administration is going to take.

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Biden called for the creation of a task force on access to reproductive health care and sought to provide protection to women who travel across state lines to access clinical abortion services.

The attorney general's office was instructed to give assistance to states that offer legal protection to out-of-state patients and health care providers. The attorney general and the White House counsel's office will convene private attorneys that offer free legal services, as well as bar associations and public interest groups, to encourage legal representation to patients, providers and other groups that provide reproductive services.

Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the decision in 1973 that established a constitutional right to abortion.

Friday, Biden cast last month's ruling as a throwback to the 1800s when women didn't even have the right to vote. His voice rising, Biden said a 10-year-old girl in Ohio got pregnant as the result of a rape and was forced to travel to Indiana to get an abortion.

“A 10-year-old girl should be forced to give birth to a rapist's child?" he asked. "I can't think of anything that is much more extreme."

Biden called again for Congress to overturn the decision by writing Roe v. Wade into federal law. He said he supports changing filibuster rules in the Senate to make it easier to codify the right to abortion and privacy into federal law.

Sixty votes are needed in the Senate to pass most legislation because of the filibuster. Changing the rules would allow senators to write Roe v. Wade into law with a simple majority. Getting rid of the filibuster is up to the Senate, and there aren’t enough votes to make that happen.

The fastest way to overturn the ruling, Biden said, is to pass a law to protect abortion rights.

“For God’s sake, there’s an election in November,” he said. “Vote! Vote! Vote! Vote!”

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Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said federal officials are working to increase access to medication abortion in limited circumstances, ensure providers have appropriate training and resources and direct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to take legal steps to protect family planning care.

Biden's order instructs Becerra to submit a report in 30 days on protecting access to abortion medication and contraception and ensuring that women have access to emergency medical care.

Fatima Goss Graves, president and chief executive officer of the National Women's Law Center, lauded Biden for taking steps to protect access to reproductive services but warned that “speed and intensity” are demanded to get people the care they need.

“Undoing these injustices will take efforts by all of us, including using the full force of the federal government,” she said.

Hopkins, of All* Above All, said more women are denied reproductive care every day as a result of the Supreme Court ruling.

"The ripple effects of the Supreme Court decision will spare no one – and the harm will fall hardest on people of color working to make ends meet," she said. "President Biden must do more."

March for Life, which opposes abortion, criticized Biden for issuing the order.

"It is tragic that this administration is using its power to push for more and more painful abortions which harm women and take innocent lives," said the group's president, Jeanne Mancini. "Our nation today faces significant challenges, not enough abortion is not one of them."

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Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.

Contributing: Rebecca Morin

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Roe v. Wade: Biden outlines steps to protect abortion access