President Biden is expected to issue an executive order that, to the extent possible against restrictive state abortion laws, might provide some help on accessing medication or getting treatment during problem pregnancies.
UPDATE: Here is the White House release.
He cannot override Arkansas’s abortion ban. But:
The executive order directs the Department of Health and Human Services to take action to expand access to medication abortion, which allows women and girls to terminate a pregnancy at home by taking two pills. Medication abortions, which were approved by the FDA in 2000, now account for more than half of all abortions in America, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Medication abortion is illegal in Arkansas in terms of providers. But increasingly, the two-pill regimen is being distributed through the mail for self-administration.
The following is a real concern in Arkansas — doctors fearful of providing critical care that might be viewed by extremists as an illegal abortion.
The agency will also take steps to ensure emergency care for pregnant women and those experiencing a miscarriage, including considering updates to current guidance that clarify physician responsibilities and protections under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. Reproductive rights activists are concerned that the state bans on abortion will prevent doctors in some states from tending to women who need Dilation and Curettage (commonly known as a D and C) to stop life-threatening bleeding during an emergency.
Here’s another hazy area in Arkansas, where the law protects ‘life” from “fertilization.” There’s some dispute about whether morning-after pills or certain IUDs prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the womb. The Arkansas law makes no mention of implantation being the start of pregnancy, only fertilization.
Health and Human Services will also take steps to protect and expand access to contraception, including emergency contraception (known colloquially as the “morning after pill”) and intrauterine devices that abortion rights advocates fear will be outlawed under certain state laws.
One part of the order deals with the so-called pregnancy resource centers, some of which have been shown to use misleading techniques and inaccurate information to discourage women from seeking abortions.
The order also directs agencies to take steps to protect the privacy of women and girls seeking abortions and to crack down on fraudulent and deceptive practices – including those online – by those trying to stop them from accessing the procedure.
And then there’s privacy, a real concern with vigilantes roaming the land and the US Supreme Court rejecting privacy as a human right under the Constitution.
The executive order specifically directs HHS to issue new guidance on protecting privacy rights of abortion patients under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). “The guidance helps ensure doctors and other medical providers and health plans know that, with limited exceptions, they are not required – and in many cases, are not permitted – to disclose patients’ private information, including to law enforcement,” the White House said.
And then there are abortion safe havens, states where the procedure is still legal.
The administration will also release a how-to guide to protect health information on mobile apps. Reproductive rights groups are worried that law enforcement will use Internet searches or menstruation and pregnancy apps to track down women seeking medication abortions or surgical abortions in other states.
Without going into detail, the executive order said the administration will take steps to ensure the safety of patients, providers and third parties in reproductive health services – including protecting mobile clinics set up at the border inside states where abortion is still legal.
The Arkansas legislature will likely attempt to restrict interstate freedom of movement and commerce and, inevitably, seek to punish women as well as providers if self-medication becomes a popular option. Lawsuits will follow.
In the meanwhile, the number of unwanted pregnancies, particularly among minors, will rise. Women will die. Mothers and children with lingering and expensive medical problems will increase the state’s financial burden. All this in what the governor proclaims is the “most pro-life state in the country.”
PS: One commentator says the main thrust of the order seems to be to protect travel to better states. This, he notes, doesn’t offer much to people who can’t afford to travel or leave work or find someone to care for their children.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism