High Court ‘out of control’, orders protection of access to abortion

US President Joe Biden speaks before signing an executive order to help protect women’s access to abortion and contraception after the Supreme Court last month overturned the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. abortion, at the White House in Washington, July 8, 2022.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Calling the U.S. Supreme Court ‘out of control’, President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order aimed at bolstering access to abortion in states that ban it following the court’s ruling he two weeks ago to revoke the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

Biden, flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and Health Secretary Xavier Becerra, chastised the court’s conservative majority for denying U.S. citizens basic rights he said were constitutionally protected, such as the right to health privacy, such as asking for an abortion.

“We cannot allow an out-of-control Supreme Court working in conjunction with extremist elements of the Republican Party to take away our freedoms and personal autonomy,” he said from the White House.

The president called Judge Clarence Thomas’ comments in a concurring opinion quashing Roe v. Wade that invited challenges to past rulings on access to contraceptives, same-sex marriage and other issues.

“What century are they in?” asked an incredulous Biden, who vowed to veto any future Republican-led effort to ban abortion nationwide. The Affordable Care Act guarantees women free birth control and contraceptive advice.

Biden then signed an executive order that promises to protect the safety of abortion patients and providers and access to the procedure through mobile clinics near the borders of states that restrict abortion access.

The order also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to release a report within the next month detailing actions to protect medical abortion, ensure access to emergency contraception and IUDs, and strengthen reproductive education.

It directs HHS to take action to protect access to the abortion pill, though it’s unclear exactly what the federal government plans to do. The Food and Drug Administration approved the abortion pill, mifepristone, more than 20 years ago as a safe and effective way to end a pregnancy before the 10th week.

In December, the FDA permanently allowed the pill to be mailed from licensed pharmacies and health care providers. Planned Parenthood, a health care provider that supports access to abortion services, hailed the ruling at the time as a significant expansion of reproductive rights.

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The order comes two weeks after the Supreme Court voted to overturn its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade and end 50 years of legal precedent. So far, at least eight states, including Texas, Alabama and Missouri, have banned abortion and another dozen are expected to restrict or ban access to the procedure over the next two months.

Democrats, furious and upset by the court’s decision, pressured Biden and Congress to do more to respond to the decision. And while the order is an attempt to assuage some of that public outrage, the directive is vague and leaves much of the details for Becerra and legal experts to iron out.

Biden also asked HHS on Friday to ensure that pregnant women who experience miscarriages and other complications have access to emergency medical care.

Abortion rights activists fear medical professionals will delay treatment of miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies lest state prosecutors interpret such procedures as a type of abortion.

Meanwhile, abortion rights advocates have urged lawmakers to suspend Senate filibuster rules that require a minimum of 60 votes to pass legislation, a monumental task in a chamber split 50-50 between Democrats, who seek these abortion rights protections, and Republicans, who broadly support the court’s decision to overturn Roe.

Biden acknowledged that reality in his White House speech on Friday and urged Americans to vote their conscience in November’s midterm elections. “The quickest way to restore Roe is to pass a national law codifying Roe, which I will sign immediately after it is passed in my office,” he said.

Women who live in states that ban abortion must either order the pill from abroad, which carries some risk, or cross state lines to receive a prescription in a state where the procedure remains legal.

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