President Joe Biden was set to sign an executive order on Friday containing new steps in the fight to protect abortion access after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe.
“Biden is expected to formalize 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,” the Associated Press explains. Serious concerns have arisen since Roe was overturned that officials in states with abortion restrictions may try to restrict their residents from traveling elsewhere to access abortion. A growing number of state officials in locales where abortion is protected have made it known they won’t be cooperating with potential out-of-state proceedings over the obtaining of an abortion or other reproductive healthcare services.
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold (D) recently joined that list. “Today, I am joining Governor Polis in making it clear Colorado will not extradite anyone for a criminal violation of another state’s laws related to abortion services,” she said Wednesday. As for Biden’s planned executive order, there’s more to it: the measure will also direct federal officials to educate medical providers and insurance companies regarding “how and when they are required to share privileged patient information with authorities,” the Associated Press notes. The point would no doubt be ensuring such individuals and entities aren’t unnecessarily going along with potential investigations into the obtaining of reproductive healthcare services. Privacy protections from the Federal Trade Commission for those engaging online with info about reproductive healthcare are also among elements touched on by Biden’s planned order. It was set to task the trade agency with developing such protections, according to the Associated Press.
It doesn’t end there, either: the Biden administration will also be overseeing a team of volunteer lawyers ready to provide pro bono assistance to pregnant individuals, those who may become pregnant, and medical providers “to help them navigate new state restrictions after the Supreme Court ruling,” the Associated Press states.
It doesn’t sound as though these volunteer lawyers will necessarily be engaging in direct court challenges of the restrictions — although such challenges are underway in multiple states, with temporary successes. Courts temporarily blocked abortion bans in Utah, Kentucky, and Louisiana, and there’s additional litigation in states from North Dakota to Florida. On the flip side, officials interested in protecting access to abortion have launched numerous attempts to safeguard those protections. The New York state legislature recently passed an amendment to the state Constitution that would formally protect abortion access in the state; although it’s already protected there, the amendment would bring those protections to a higher level of the legal system. The amendment still has to be approved by a new post-elections crop of legislators and New York voters.
Other avenues Biden’s administration is taking might lead to court success: the “tasking to the Justice Department and HHS is expected to push the agencies to fight in court to protect women,” the Associated Press notes, although it’s obviously unclear how exactly that would play out.