In what would have been the 50th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade of the Supreme Court, the White House took executive action to protect medical abortion in the face of increasing statewide reproductive health restrictions.
Vice President Kamala Harris announced President Joe Biden’s decision to sign a presidential memorandum Sunday during a speech in Florida. Harris was in the state capital of Tallahassee to discuss the next steps in the fight for reproductive rights and to commemorate what would have been the golden anniversary of the high court decision that made abortion a national right.
“Last year, so-called leaders in the state house here in Tallahassee passed a sweeping ban on abortion with no exceptions, including for survivors of crimes like rape, child abuse and human trafficking,” Harris said. “Here in Florida, health care providers face up to five years in prison simply for doing their job. And now, the state has also targeted medical abortion and even threatened Florida pharmacists with criminal charges if they provide drugs prescribed by medical professionals.”
“And Florida is not alone. Twenty-two states have announced that they will not follow new federal rules that allow women to get prescription drugs from a certified pharmacy. Imagine,” she continued. “So today, we’re fighting back.”
The memorandum directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security, to consider new guidelines to protect patients, health care providers, and pharmacies attempting to legally obtain, prescribe, or dispense mifepristone, a drug that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for decades to safely and effectively induce abortion. Mifepristone can be used alone or in combination with misoprostol, another pill used in medical abortions.
Medical abortion remains legal at the federal level. Earlier this month, the FDA decided to allow providers the continued use of telehealth to prescribe mifepristone and created a new option for licensed pharmacies to provide it to patients. But some state-level Republican officials are working to prevent people seeking an abortion from obtaining mifepristone legally and to discourage pharmacies from obtaining FDA certification to dispense the drug.
Biden’s memo also directs the HHS secretary to ensure that patients are protected from harassment, threats, or violence while trying to access legal reproductive care, including medical abortion.
The Supreme Court, which has a conservative majority, struck down Roe v. Wade in a ruling last summer, striking down the constitutional right to abortion.
Since then, dozens of states have moved to enforce abortion bans, including Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis recently suggested changing the state’s 15-week ban to a six-week ban. Republicans in at least two states have introduced bills to criminalize those seeking an abortion, and Alabama’s attorney general has vowed to prosecute people who use abortion pills before retracting his comments.
On Sunday, abortion rights advocates across the country participated in the first Women’s March organized since the fall of Roe. The march returned to various cities across the country, with the largest event taking place in Washington, DC The Women’s March came just two days after the annual anti-abortion March for Life returned to Washington for the first time since the Supreme Court overturned Hueva.
“America is the land of the free and the home of the brave,” Harris said Sunday. “But let us ask ourselves: can we be truly free if a woman cannot make decisions about her own body? Can we be truly free if a doctor can’t care for her patients? Can we be truly free if families cannot make intimate decisions about the course of their own lives?
Dr. Sujatha Prabhakaran, an abortion physician with Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, spoke in Tallahassee about the difficult decisions health care providers must now make in states that have strict abortion bans.
“Since the Dobbs decision, my colleagues and I have felt heartbreak time and time again. We must tell patients that we cannot provide care for which we are trained and qualified. They understand that we want to help and they don’t blame us, but they know that they no longer have control over their own body, ”he said before introducing the vice president.
“And for those of us who have been marginalized for so long, people who can get pregnant, people who are black or brown, people with lower incomes or who don’t speak the dominant language, or who have different abilities, the loss of our reproductive freedom has told us that we are less important, less valuable, and less safe.”
Supporters of reproductive rights, including the president and vice president, have pleaded with Congress to codify abortion rights since Roe was struck down. But now that Republicans control the House, many Republican lawmakers are pushing for the opposite: a nationwide abortion ban. Despite ongoing efforts by House Republicans to pass anti-abortion bills that include misinformation about abortions, such legislation is likely to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate.