President Joe Biden’s administration on Monday announced new plans to increase access to surgical abortion, chemical abortion, and contraceptives, with the move coming on the 51st anniversary of the Supreme Court’s now-defunct Roe v. Wade ruling.
The White House’s push includes new guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support surgical abortion through a federal law that guarantees “emergency medical treatment.” The plan also moves forward with prior executive actions to provide easier access to chemical abortions through federal regulation.
“Women’s health and lives hang in the balance due to extreme state abortion bans,” the White House statement read.
“These dangerous state laws have caused chaos and confusion, as women are being turned away from emergency rooms, forced to travel hundreds of miles, or required to go to court to seek permission for the health care they need.”
The new HHS actions include training health care workers and educating patients about federal requirements in the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTLA) and easing the process for filing complaints against hospitals under that law. The 1986 law requires that Medicare-participating hospitals provide all patients with appropriate medical screening examinations, stabilizing treatment, and transfer regardless of their ability to pay.
Although the law does not specifically mention abortion, the administration believes that “the required emergency care can, in some circumstances, include abortion care.”
The administration has interpreted the law as being more permissive to abortion in some cases than is allowed by laws in some pro-life states — such as Idaho and Texas — and has argued that the federal regulations override the state restrictions. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the administration’s interpretation of this law in June when it is likely to settle a lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) against the state of Idaho.
The Biden administration is also moving forward with efforts to support chemical abortion through executive action. The White House announced that HHS, the DOJ, and the Department of Homeland Security will report on the implementation of the president’s 2023 memorandum to increase access to chemical abortion. The memorandum directed the agencies to draft guidance for patients and health care providers to support access to chemical abortion and to study and provide suggestions on reducing barriers to accessing chemical abortion drugs.
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has agreed to hear a case filed by pro-life medical groups that challenges the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of the abortion drug mifepristone and its subsequent deregulation of the drug. The lawsuit alleges that the FDA’s original approval of the drug did not weigh the potential safety risks for women and that its deregulation — to allow women to receive a prescription without an in-person doctor’s visit and to receive the drug through the mail — also failed to properly weigh safety risks.
In addition to the efforts to expand abortion, the White House statement also touched on the administration’s efforts to support contraception. The White House said HHS will issue a letter to private insurers, state Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs, and Medicare plans about obligations to cover “affordable contraception.” The Office of Personnel Management will also issue guidance that requires insurers that participate in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program to educate enrollees about contraception benefits.
The administration is also directing federal agencies to issue guidance to clarify that FDA-approved contraceptives are covered, at no cost, under the Affordable Care Act.
The announcement said the White House is convening the fourth meeting of the Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access to coordinate and support these abortion and contraception efforts.
Biden’s campaign has been focusing heavily on abortion heading into the 2024 election. Also on Monday, the campaign launched a pro-abortion television advertisement and Vice President Kamala Harris launched her “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” tour, in which she is critical of pro-life laws.