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While necessary, Biden's order is seen as unclear and lacks strength.
While necessary, Biden's order is seen as unclear and lacks strength. Photo: Samuel Corum/AFP via Getty Images.

Biden’s abortion executive order was celebrated. Then reality hit

The president’s move was a necessary one for continued abortion access, but there’s only so much it can do.

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Two weeks after the landmark ruling of Roe v. Wade, on July 8, President Joe Biden finally responded with an executive order that will offer protections for millions of women seeking abortion, contraceptives, protect patient privacy, and as well as strenghen the security and legal accessibility for those seeking and providing abortions across the nation. 

In spite of the move, some feel the order came too late and is lacking the clarity and strength needed to make a difference. The White House and the President are heavily limited on what they can do. There is not an action that exists for Biden to restore the nationwide right to abortion, and he even publicly acknowledging the limited options available. 

Instead, he called on the American people to go out and vote in the midterm elections in November and help elect more members of Congress who are for federal legislation protecting abortion and contraceptive rights. 

“We need two additional pro-choice senators and a pro-choice House to codify Roe as federal law,” he said, acknowledging the current situation as “frustrating.” “Your vote can make that a reality,” Biden continued.. 

In a statement from Lupe M. Rodríguez, Executive Director for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, said about Biden’s Executive Order calling it “a good step forward.” While “some details need to be fleshed out,” she appreciates the Biden administration showing interest and stepping up in some form with some of the specifics outlined in the order. It shows an administration that is trying to do something to combat the Supreme Court’s ruling and shows consideration for the issue itself. 

This comes after the recent reports of the 10-year old girl from Ohio who was raped and six weeks pregnant, but 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? I can tell you what I know. I can’t think of anything that’s much more extreme. The court’s decision has already been received by Republicans in Congress as a green light to go further and pass a national ban,” Biden said, saying he’d veto any that passed Congress.

Many progressives have also suggested unsupported ideas like expanding the Supreme Court, which the White House reiterated that Biden doesn’t support. Another rejected idea was letting abortion providers work on federal property in states where the procedure is banned. White House secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said using federal property for such procedures would have “dangerous ramifications.” 

In a statement from Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights, she also celebrated the executive order, but still looked at a long road ahead to protecting the choice for women.

“Abortion services have already ceased in nine states, and that number is expected to grow dramatically. This public health crisis will become more dire by the day. We are glad that President Biden is taking action and has directed the Health and Human Services Department to do everything in its power to expand access to medication abortion,” said Northup. “This should include HHS immediately declaring a public health emergency and using the emergency powers of the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) to protect access to abortion for as many people as possible.”

With some considering it a small step forward and even a good start, critics have called it out for its lack of effectiveness. The order consisted of a series of directives pointed at the Health and Human Services and the Justice Department that were safely worded, failing to create any kind of duty for the agencies. After waiting two weeks for a response from the Biden administration, the executive order was not much of a payoff. 

At Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Philadelphia’s longest Latino-serving organization, the focus has and continues to be on providing contraceptive and other reproductive services to the surrounding community. These services only grow in importance as abortion is attacked on the national scale.

“Contraception is an integral part of a full range of reproductive health and family planning services. In this moment, we understand that family planning providers play a critical role as a source of safe and trusted information for their patients and the Congreso Health Center is committed to providing high-quality, bilingual, and bicultural reproductive healthcare and family planning services to our community,” said Julia Rivera, Vice President of External Affairs and Strategic Initiatives at Congreso. “These services include contraception, pregnancy testing and referrals, and STI testing and treatment and are available to Philadelphia residents, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.” 

In the executive order signed on July 8, Biden ordered directives to the Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to submit a report within the next 30 days on the measures the department is taking on the issue. 

HHS also has to work to broaden the access to contraceptives such as emergency and long-acting reversible contraceptives such as IUD’s and others. The order also called for HHS to update their guidance to further elucidate the protections and responsibilities of physicians as the department ramps up its education and outreach efforts.

Attorney General Merrick Garland is part of an newly-formed interagency task force led by Biden on reproductive health access. As part of the task force, Garland announced that states cannot ban Mifepristone, an early pregnancy termination medication. In addition, the order asks for patient privacy, specifically, directing the Federal Trade Commission to protect the privacy of those seeking reproductive health care information. 

Becerra also directed the HHS Office for Civil Rights to further clarify to doctors and medical providers that they are not permitted in some cases, or required to disclose personal patient information, including to law enforcement. 

In a clarification on Wednesday, July 13, the Biden administration also reminded pharmacies that they are not allowed to turn away patients who have prescriptions for pregnancy termination medication under federal law. In addition, the HHS Office for Civil Rights sent the directive to over 60,000 pharmacies across the country reminding them that under federal civil rights laws pregnancy discrimination is a form sex discrimination which is illegal in the United States. 

They outlined what that kind of discrimiation exactly looks like and the different forms it takes, such as pharmacies selling condoms, but refusing to fill a prescription for a form of contraceptives and refusing to stock certain medications that can terminate a pregnancy. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, maternal mortality rates have risen in the last two decades and the U.S. currently has the highest maternal mortality rate in all of the developed nations. 

As the fight for abortion rights and contraceptives continues, many a lengthy political battles remain, and elections become more important by the day.

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