On Friday, two weeks after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, President Biden made an announcement. He had signed an executive order that would, the White House said in a fact sheet, protect access to various reproductive-health services, including abortion. “This was not a decision driven by the Constitution,” he said of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs. The majority “is playing fast and loose with the facts,” he added, and said later, “The practice of medicine should not be frozen in the 19th century.” The president then urged Democrats to vote, again — “vote, vote, vote, vote,” he said — before introducing the terms contained within his executive order.
With the order, Biden directs the Department of Health and Human Services to submit a report within 30 days on its efforts to “expand access to abortion care,” including medication abortion. The administration also says it will “convene” a network of volunteer attorneys “to encourage robust legal representation of patients, providers, and third parties lawfully seeking or offering reproductive health-care services throughout the country.” Other aspects of the order address patient privacy and the protection of abortion clinics.
Yet the order likely won’t end the perception that the Biden administration isn’t meeting the moment. The language in Friday’s fact sheet is often vague, and the steps outlined in it and in Biden’s speech follow weeks and even months of calls to action issued by reproductive-rights advocates and their allies in Congress. The administration looks cautious and slow to react at a moment of great peril for anyone who can become pregnant.
Not long before the president was scheduled to speak on Friday, Bloomberg Law reported that the White House had decided against declaring a public-health emergency after the Supreme Court overturned Roe. Officials allegedly concluded that the impact of such an order “wouldn’t justify an inevitable legal battle,” Bloomberg added, although doing so would have granted HHS “new powers for an indefinite period” to protect abortion rights. “There might be risk with some of these ideas,” Morgan Hopkins, the interim executive director of campaign and strategies for All Above All, told Bloomberg. “The urgency of their action needs to meet the urgency of the moment.” Yet Biden also opposes the expansion of the Supreme Court, which would, in theory, provide a way for the administration to ensure a liberal majority.
Reinforcing Biden’s out-to-lunch image, emails obtained by the Louisville Courier-Journal show that he planned to nominate a staunch opponent of abortion rights “to a lifetime appointment as a federal district judge in Kentucky.“ After Kentucky Democrats complained, it was unclear if the administration planned to proceed with the nomination. Representative John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Kentucky, told the Courier-Journal that he believed the nomination was part of a deal to convince Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to stop holding up the administration’s nominations. If that’s true, the Biden administration looks as though it resides in a fantasy version of Washington where the GOP remained sensible and open to compromise — a fantasy that thinks nothing of the rights of women and pregnant people.
In his speech on Friday, Biden expressed outrage over a story out of Ohio, which bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. A 10-year-old girl, a rape survivor, had to travel out of state to Indiana for an abortion because she was determined to be six weeks and three days pregnant. The story is shocking and merits all the president’s anger; at the same time, it demands urgency. That last quality is still absent from the president’s message.