June 08, 2022
US Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) sent a letter to President Biden urging him to immediately issue an executive order directing the federal government to develop a national plan to defend Americans’ fundamental reproductive rights, including their right to an abortion. The letter was also signed by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.); Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.); Cory Booker (DN.J.); Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio); Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.); Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.); Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.); Kirsten Gillibrand (DN.Y.); Maggie Hassan (DN.H.); Martin Heinrich (DN.M.); Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.); Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.); Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.); Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.); Alex Padilla (D-Calif.); Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.); Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.); Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii); Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.); Tina Smith (D-Minn.); Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.); and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
After decades of activism by Republican extremists, the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wadereversing nearly 50 years of settled law and eviscerating the right to a legal abortion. Anti-abortion violence is on the rise, with assaults and threats of harm against abortion providers more than doubling between 2016 and 2020. Anti-abortion policies have introduced nearly 550 abortion restrictions in 42 states and radical laws completely banning abortion and placing bounties on providers offering medical services. And if Roe v. Wade is gutted by this right-wing Supreme Court, Republican leaders have already signaled their next move: a quality ban on abortion in all 50 states.
President Biden has previously mobilized the full force of the federal government on behalf of several key Administration priorities such as racial justice, voting rights, and competition. In the letter, the lawmakers urge the President to act with equal boldness and urgency to protect the right to an abortion. In particular, the lawmakers suggest the following actions for the President’s consideration:
- Increasing access to medication abortion. Federal agencies could take steps to increase the accessibility of medication abortion and ensure the wide availability of accurate information about medication abortion.
- Providing resources for individuals seeking abortion care in other states. Federal agencies could explore opportunities to provide vouchers for travel, child care services, and other forms of support for individuals seeking to access abortion care that is unavailable in their home state.
- Establishing a reproductive health ombudsman at the Department of Health and Humans Services (HHS). A new ombudsman could educate the public and analyze data collected by HHS about access to reproductive services. For example, this office could gather information about insurances’ coverage of reproductive health services (such as contraception); disseminate information about how individuals could connect with Title X clinics, reproductive health clinics, and abortion funds; and provide the public with safety information related to self-managed abortions outside formal medical settings.
- Enforcing “Free Choice of Provider” requirements. HHS could explore more aggressively enforcing federal requirements that guarantee Medicaid beneficiaries have the ability to seek family planning services from their provider of choice.
- Clarifying protections for sensitive health and location data. HHS’s Office for Civil Rights could clarify how websites or mobile that collect information related to reproductive health (such as period trackers) should protect personally identifiable information and other sensitive data, especially given the risks presented by the sale of this data in states that criminalize reproductive decision-making.
- Using federal property and resources to increase access to abortion. The Department of Justice and all relevant agencies could analyze the types of reproductive health services that could be provided on federal property, especially in states where such services are limited by state law or regulation. The Department of Defense could assess the possibility of moving military personnel and their families and any authority to ensure that members and their families can access reproductive health care when they need it. The Office of Personnel Management could explore requirements that all federal employees are provided paid time off and reimburse for expenses necessary to access abortion. And all federal agencies—including those who retain custody or control over individuals or provide healthcare to them—could conduct a review of their regulations and policies that limit abortion care and other reproductive health services and promulgate new regulations that expand access to those services.
“These proposals are only starting points in a federal apparatus that affects millions of Americans every day. The whole of the federal government must be engaged in the Administration’s efforts and must act as swiftly as possible,” the lawmakers wrote.
A copy of the letter is available here.