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Biden Signs Executive Order to Support Women Seeking Out-of-State Abortions

August 3, 2022 by Dan McCue
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland, right, listen as President Joe Biden speaks virtually during the first meeting of the interagency Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday that directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to work with states to use Medicaid waivers to pay the expenses of women who have to cross state lines to receive an abortion.

The order was the second Biden has signed in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which held that women have no constitutional right to an abortion.

The ruling overturned the court’s landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, acknowledging such a right, and the 1992 case Casey v. Planned Parenthood, which largely upheld Roe.

Biden, who continues to isolate due to his second bout with COVID-19 in as many weeks, signed the order during a virtual gathering of the administration’s interagency task force on reproductive health care.

“I believe Roe got it right, and it’s been the law for close to 50 years,” he said.

He went on to vow to do everything in his power to safeguard access to health care — including access to abortions — which he said had been “ripped away” by an “extreme” Supreme Court.

Specifically, the executive order directs Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to consider an array of actions to ensure health care providers comply with federal nondiscrimination laws in the aftermath of the ruling.

The order also instructs HHS to improve federal research and data collection at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in order to evaluate the impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling on maternal health, the fact sheet said.  

But a fact sheet distributed by the White House on Wednesday didn’t lay out much in the way of specifics on the Medicaid waivers themselves or how they would work.

It’s possible, senior administration officials suggested, that Becerra could invite states to apply for Section 1115 Medicaid waivers to cover certain costs related to traveling for abortion. 

However, a final determination on how the waivers will work in practice is entirely up to HHS.

Prior to Biden’s virtual appearance at the start of the task force meeting, much of the buzz in the room revolved around the defeat Kansas voters meted out 24 hours earlier to a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have paved the way for new restrictions on abortion.  

“The court practically dared women in this country to go to the ballot box and restore the right to choose that the court had just ripped away after 50 years,” Biden said later of the outcome. “They don’t have a clue about the power of American women. Last night in Kansas, they found out,” he said.

Shortly after Biden signed the latest executive order on reproductive health, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., reflected on the developments of the past few days.

“Yesterday, voters in Kansas decisively rejected efforts to limit reproductive choice. Today, President Biden is issuing an executive order that further shows his administration’s resolve in making sure this critical right is protected for American women,” Hoyer said in a written statement.

“It is clear that the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson does not reflect the will of the American people or our long-established understanding of the privacy rights guaranteed under the Constitution,” he said. “I thank President Biden for his continued leadership through executive actions to protect women’s freedom to choose as well as the freedom to travel. 

“To ensure women’s full access to reproductive choice across the country, however, Congress must send him the Women’s Health Protection Act to sign into law. The House has passed this legislation twice, and it is now up to the Senate to act. I urge them to do so without delay,” Hoyer said.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and @DanMcCue

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