Washington (CNN) — President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday to help ensure access to abortion in light of the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this summer to strike down the constitutional right to the procedure.
The president said the executive order will help women travel out of state for abortions, ensure health care providers comply with federal law so women are not delayed in receiving care, and advance research and data collection. “to assess the impact this reproductive health crisis is having on maternal health and other health conditions.”
Biden spoke of the “chaos and uncertainty” that ensued in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, saying, “Women’s health and lives are at stake.”
“Women experiencing miscarriages are denied emergency medical care, doctors don’t know what they can do to care for their patients, pharmacists aren’t sure they can fill the prescriptions they’ve always filled before, a tragic case of survivors of rape, including a 10-year-old girl forced to travel to another state for care,” Biden said before signing the order.
The order comes a day after Kansas voters handed abortion-rights advocates a major victory and defeated a measure that would have allowed the GOP-led legislature to impose new restrictions. It was a vote that Biden held at the White House.
“In a decisive victory, voters made it clear that politicians should not interfere with women’s fundamental rights. And Kansas voters sent a powerful signal that this fall the American people will vote to preserve and protect the right and will refuse to allow them to be ripped off by politicians,” Biden said at the event. “And my administration stands behind them.”
Biden signed the executive order during the inaugural meeting of the administration’s newly established Task Force on Access to Reproductive Health Care, a task force made up of representatives from various departments of the federal government. Cabinet members are also expected to brief the president on steps their respective agencies have taken “to uphold reproductive rights” at Wednesday’s meeting, an administration official told reporters Tuesday.
The order directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS, for its acronym in English), Xavier Becerra, to consider “all appropriate measures to ensure that health care providers comply with federal laws against discrimination so that women receive medically necessary care without delay,” including steps to provide health care providers with technical and legal guidance amid the patchwork of state legal restrictions on abortion care following the Supreme Court’s decision.
Last month, CNN reported that doctors have struggled to navigate Byzantine guidance as states across the country pass ever-tightening abortion restrictions, with experts warning of “an enormous chilling effect” on doctors performing miscarriage surgeries even when doctors “are confident that what they are doing is within the letter of the law.”
Wednesday’s executive order also directs HHS to consider actions to ensure women traveling across state lines seeking abortions have access to health care services, including through Medicaid. Last month, a bill guaranteeing women the right to travel across states for abortions failed to pass the Senate after Republicans blocked the measure.
According to the official, that would allow states to provide care to out-of-state patients seeking abortions through a waiver of Medicaid 1115which would allow states to waive certain state requirements for providing care and help cover “certain costs.”
The order further directs HHS to expand research efforts on maternal health data, “to accurately measure the impact that declining access to reproductive health services is having on women’s health,” the official said on Monday. Tuesday.
Pressed Wednesday on how the president’s executive order on reproductive care avoids conflicting with the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds to perform abortions, White House press secretary Karine Jean Pierre said the Department of Health and Human Services “will come up with details on the specifics of how they are going to work with states” to provide care through Medicaid waivers.
“So, as you know, Medicaid provides comprehensive health care to low-income women; this care includes family planning services, such as birth control, non-emergency medical services, transportation, and support services, such as targeted case management, which allows healthcare providers to help patients coordinate their care,” Jean-Pierre told CNN’s MJ Lee. “And it also includes abortion care in certain circumstances, as accepted by the Hyde Amendment, which is rape, incest and life of the mother.”
Jean-Pierre told Lee that the decree “will cover care that would otherwise be part of Medicaid,” including non-emergency medical travel and other health care services.
The White House press secretary added: “The Hyde Amendment is law and we are going to follow that law.”
Wednesday’s decree is the second signed by Biden after the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. Last month, Biden signed an executive order that he said would safeguard access to abortion care and contraceptives, protect patient privacy and establish an interagency task force to use “every federal tool available to protect access to reproductive health care.
Ultimately, however, there is no action the president can take to restore the national right to abortion, and Biden has publicly acknowledged that his options for expanding abortion access remain limited.
This story has been updated with additional information.