WASHINGTON (NewsNation) — President Joe Biden took executive action Friday to protect access to abortion as he faces mounting pressure after the Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to the procedure that had been in place for nearly 50 years.
The actions he outlined are intended to mitigate some potential penalties women seeking abortion may face after the ruling but are limited in their ability to safeguard access to abortion nationwide. Biden acknowledged the limitations, saying it would require an act of Congress to restore access to abortion in the more than a dozen states where strict limits or total bans have gone into effect in the wake of the court’s ruling. About a dozen other states are set to impose additional restrictions in the coming weeks and months.
“The fastest way to restore Roe is to pass a national law,” Biden said. “The challenge is go out and vote. For God’s sake there is an election in November. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote!”
Biden formalized instructions to the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services to push back on efforts to limit the ability of women to access federally approved abortion medication or to travel across state lines to access clinical abortion services. He was joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, HHS secretary Xavier Becerra and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco in the Roosevelt Room as he signed the order.
His executive order also directs agencies to work to educate medical providers and insurers about how and when they are required to share privileged patient information with authorities — an effort to protect women who seek or utilize abortion services. He is also asking the Federal Trade Commission to take steps to protect the privacy of those seeking information about reproductive care online and establish an interagency task force to coordinate federal efforts to safeguard access to abortion.
Biden is also directing his staff to convene volunteer lawyers to provide women and providers with pro bono legal assistance to help them navigate new state restrictions after the Supreme Court ruling.
The court, in a 6-3 ruling powered by its conservative majority, upheld a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks. Justice Samuel Alito, in the final opinion issued two weeks ago, wrote that Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision that reaffirmed the right to abortion, were wrong on the days they were decided and must be overturned.
Authority to regulate abortion rests with the political branches, not the courts, Alito wrote.
Since the decision, Biden has stressed that his ability to protect abortion rights by executive action is limited without congressional action.
“Ultimately, Congress is going to have to act to codify Roe into federal law,” Biden said last week during a virtual meeting with Democratic governors.
The tasking to the Justice Department and HHS is expected to push the agencies to fight in court to protect women, but it conveys no guarantees that the judicial system will take its side against potential prosecution by states that have moved to outlaw abortion.
This story is developing. Refresh for updates.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.