Biden order faces limits attempting to bolster abortion access

The president is under pressure to act after Roe v. Wade was overturned two weeks ago.
President Joe Biden speaks Friday about abortion access during an event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
President Joe Biden speaks Friday about abortion access during an event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. [ EVAN VUCCI | AP ]
Published July 8, 2022|Updated July 8, 2022

President Joe Biden signed an executive order Friday that attempts to bolster women’s access to contraception and abortion medication and protect their medical privacy two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to abortion.

But the president’s order does not restore abortion rights in the states that have banned the procedure — or soon will. Nor does it appear to affect Florida’s 15-week abortion ban, which took effect July 1.

Biden, acting as pressure mounts from Democrats and abortion rights advocates, directed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to identify “potential actions” to “protect and expand access to abortion care.”

In a speech Friday, the president said the only way to restore the constitutional right to an abortion was to elect more lawmakers to Congress who support the procedure, specifically to elect at least two senators who support abortion rights, and to maintain a supportive House majority.

“The fastest way to restore Roe is to pass a national law codifying Roe,” Biden said. “For God’s sake, there’s an election in November. Vote, vote, vote, vote.”

Related: Who will enforce Florida’s 15-week abortion ban? And what if they refuse?

Biden’s order instructs the Department of Health and Human Services to find ways to expand access to emergency contraception and abortion medication; improve educational outreach about reproductive health care; and ensure pregnant women have access to emergency medical care by “considering updates to current guidance that clarify physician responsibilities and protections.”

The president left it to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to figure out how to accomplish these goals and report back to Biden in 30 days.

Biden also encouraged the Federal Trade Commission to consider taking steps to protect consumers’ privacy when looking for online information about reproductive health care and told federal health officials to launch a new task force to address abortion-related issues.

The U.S. Attorney General and White House also are prepping for legal battles as states ban the procedure and will organize volunteer private lawyers “to encourage robust legal representation” of abortion patients and providers.

Related: With Roe overturned, Tampa Bay doctors see surge in tubal ligation, vasectomies

Biden’s order didn’t endorse or mention the idea of setting up abortion clinics on federal land, which some abortion rights advocates support.

The president also condemned the Supreme Court majority that overturned Roe, saying they were “playing fast and loose with the facts.” And he criticized GOP officials across the country who are moving to further restrict access to abortion:

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“The most extreme Republican governors and state legislators have taken the court’s decision as a green light to impose some of the harshest and most restrictive laws seen in this country in a long time.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed Florida’s 15-week abortion ban into law in April, did not mention the president’s order at a Friday morning news conference.

Last month, the governor praised the end of Roe, saying “the prayers of millions have been answered.” He also said he will “work to expand pro-life protections.” But while the Republicans who control the Florida Legislature have repeatedly curbed access to abortion, DeSantis has not said if he supports or will seek further restrictions this year, or in next year’s session.

Related: DeSantis stays quiet on abortion’s future in Florida as Republicans strategize

Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott did not address Biden’s executive order or remarks through their offices or via their social media channels. DeSantis and Rubio are up for reelection in November.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel criticized the president after his speech. “Democrats are out of touch with the American people,” she said, according to Reuters.

Some Florida Democrats praised Biden’s order.

“I hope this step is just the beginning of greater federal action to guarantee everyone has access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care without fear,” said a statement from state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who’s running to become the Democrat who will challenge DeSantis in this year’s governor’s race.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who is running against Fried, thanked Biden in a statement but said, “Our fight to protect fundamental health care services across Florida doesn’t stop here.”

Others were not satisfied by Biden’s actions, however. State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said in a statement that the president’s order “isn’t enough, especially for hostile anti-abortion states like Florida.”

Times staff writers Romy Ellenbogen and Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.

Related: Florida bans telehealth abortions, but can it enforce the law?

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