WASHINGTON (BP)—President Biden’s administration has continued to take steps to circumvent the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision and again has drawn objections from a Southern Baptist leader and another pro-life advocate.
Multiple federal agencies acted July 11-13 in the Biden administration’s latest attempts to counter the high court’s June 24 ruling, which returned abortion policy to the states by overturning the 1973 Roe opinion that legalized abortion nationwide. Among them:
- The Department of Justice (DOJ) established July 12 the Reproductive Rights Task Force, which will monitor state and local legislation that restricts abortion and will synchronize legal actions and other federal responses.
- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent guidelines July 13 to remind about 60,000 pharmacies they are obligated under federal law to provide access to reproductive health care, which includes abortion drugs.
- S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has prepared a memo that would enable some pregnant women in detention centers in states with pro-life policies to be taken to other states for abortions, The Wall Street Journal reported July 12.
- HHS announced July 11 a new directive to assure pregnant women receive “emergency medical care,” including abortion services.
Brent Leatherwood, acting president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), told Baptist Press, “For years, a bipartisan consensus has ensured that tax dollars should not be utilized on abortion services to ensure that the consciences of millions of Americans are protected. These harmful initiatives constitute an effort to completely upend that principle and will only further an abortion environment that preys on women and puts innocent lives at risk.
“In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, our nation’s resources should be marshaled to save lives by ending abortion, serve mothers and families who find themselves in crisis and establish a true culture of life that extends from the federal level to each and every state,” he said in written comments.
“If anything, this development underscores the reality we find ourselves in: The Dobbs decision didn’t signal the end of the pro-life movement, but the beginning of a new chapter. And in this new chapter, the pro-life witness of pastors, churches and pro-life Christians will be as important as ever.”
Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who will chair DOJ’s Reproductive Rights Task Force, described the Supreme Court’s rejection of Roe as “a devastating blow to reproductive freedom.” Though Roe is no longer in effect, DOJ “is committed to protecting access to reproductive services,” she said in a release announcing the task force’s formation.
The state and local measures the task force will monitor include those that prohibit the abortion pill, restrict a woman’s travel to another state for the procedure and limit an individual’s ability to inform others about abortion services in another state, according to the DOJ release. The task force will consist of staff members of different divisions and offices within the department. DOJ is working with abortion providers and advocates, the release reported.
Chelsey Youman, national legislative advisor for Human Coalition Action, said in written remarks for BP, “Rather than caring for women’s material and medical needs, the administration is choosing to double down and prioritize abortion as a solution — even after the Supreme Court allowed states to protect preborn human lives from the moment of conception onward. Blocking state regulations of the deadly abortion pill regimen is backwards and extreme, and these actions show no regard for the humanity of preborn children.
“While the administration purports to be protecting women’s emergency medical care, women are already getting this care – and state pro-life laws allow for it,” she said. “The administration is simply posturing here, but thankfully, the American public is not in lockstep with this agenda.”
Alexis McGill Johnson – president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the country’s leading abortion provider – commended creation of the DOJ task force as “a meaningful step” and urged government leaders “to continue to consider the ways they can mitigate the fallout of the court’s decision.”
Abortion rights advocates in Congress also are promoting efforts to offset the Supreme Court’s ruling.
In a week in which at least two hearings on abortion have been held by Democratic-controlled committees in each chamber, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Friday (July 15) on two measures in a package of legislative proposals.
The Women’s Health Protection Act would safeguard a vastly expansive right to abortion that would prohibit federal and state regulations of the procedure that even Roe permitted. The House approved a version of the bill in September 2021, but the Senate rejected consideration of the legislation in May.
The House also will decide on the Ensuring Access to Abortion Act, which would bar states with abortion bans from prohibiting travel to other states for the procedure. It also would prevent states from blocking the mailing of abortion pills across state lines.
The ERLC posted on its website July 12 an explanation of both bills, which the entity strongly opposes.
The actions by federal agencies followed a series of other initiatives by Biden and his administration since the justices overruled Roe.
Biden signed an executive order July 8 that included directives calling for expanded safeguards for access to drugs that end the lives of preborn children, the establishment of an interagency task force to coordinate protections for abortion access and the assembling of volunteer lawyers to represent women and abortion providers.
On the day Roe fell in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization opinion, the president announced his administration would protect interstate travel for abortions and access to medical/chemical abortions. Days later, the administration also established a new website that helps women find an abortion provider and obtain funds to pay for such a procedure.
Biden also has called for Congress to codify Roe into law through an exception to the Senate’s filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes to end debate and take floor action on legislation but is improbable with the chamber’s current makeup. He also has urged voters to elect enough senators to establish expansive abortion rights in federal law.
Some Democrats in Congress have criticized Biden for not doing more to protect abortion rights after the Supreme Court’s ruling. Among their proposals have been calls for a declaration by Biden of a “public health emergency” and the opening of abortion clinics on federal lands in conservative states. The administration has declined to take those steps.
Nearly half of the 50 states already have laws prohibiting abortion either throughout pregnancy or at some stage of pregnancy, although courts have blocked enforcement of some.