Justice Department announces task force to fight excessive abortion bans
The task force, led by Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, will be charged with monitoring and evaluating state and local legislation and evaluating lawsuits against states that ban abortion drugs or attempt to prevent someone from becoming pregnant. to travel out of state for an abortion, among other measures. The effort will include dedicated staff and representatives from a wide cross-section of the Department of Justice, including the Civil Division, U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, Civil Rights Division, Office of General Counsel, Office of the Access to Justice and the Office of the Prosecutor. General.
“The Court abandoned 50 years of precedent and removed the constitutional right to abortion, preventing women across the country from being able to make critical decisions about our bodies, our health and our future,” Gupta said in a statement. . “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting access to reproductive services.”
Abortion is now prohibited in these states. See where the laws have changed.
Some Democratic activists and lawmakers have expressed frustration with the White House’s response to abortion law changes in recent weeks, urging the Biden administration to push the boundaries of what it thinks it can do next. of the Supreme Court’s decision. In response, President Biden delivered a fiery speech on Friday signing an executive order directing his administration to pursue a series of measures to strengthen abortion rights.
On Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced one such measure included in Biden’s directive. The agency updated guidelines reminding doctors that they should terminate a pregnancy if necessary to stabilize a patient in an emergency medical situation.
Similar to the Department of Justice task force announcement, the HHS memo does not include a new policy, but rather seeks to clear up the confusion that providers are facing on the ground in states where the abortions are newly restricted. Top U.S. health officials reiterated their belief that federal law supersedes state abortion bans, protecting clinicians’ judgment when administering treatment in an emergency.
In a statement, Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the new Justice Department task force “a significant step in providing a framework for the enforcement of federal protection to those who help patients access abortion, and we look forward to seeing his work take shape soon.
Since the Supreme Court ruling, she said, she has traveled to several states to discuss the impact of the ruling.
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Justice officials said they have been working for months to prepare for the Supreme Court’s decision and an expected wave of legislation in some states to further restrict abortion, ban doctors from counseling patients on procedure or help them access it, and prohibit pregnant women in states that prohibit abortion from receiving abortion drugs in the mail or from traveling across state lines to terminate a pregnancy.
Anti-abortion groups have hit back at the Justice Department’s efforts, arguing that the federal government should not attempt to block state efforts.
“It cannot trump federalism. It cannot override the constitution,” said Clarke Forsythe, senior attorney at Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion law firm and advocacy group. “It’s basically do-it-yourself work.”
Kristi Hamrick, spokeswoman for Students For Life of America, called the task force a “diversion of our federal resources to prioritize abortion.”
Since the court ruling, more than a dozen states have moved to ban or severely restrict abortions, according to the Washington Post tracker. Some of these efforts have been at least temporarily stalled by lawsuits from abortion rights groups. Legal arguments vary, though they often argue that the state constitution protects a patient’s right to obtain an abortion.
Some Republican-led states have also moved to ban the practice of medicine around abortion pills, such as preventing them from being shipped or prescribed during telehealth visits, creating likely litigation in the courts. The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug in 2000, saying the drugs were safe and effective for use in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
Some experts say there’s a strong case that FDA approval of a drug precludes state action — and that further restrictions in states where abortion is restricted or banned wouldn’t hold. in federal courts.
Attorney General Merrick Garland signaled last month that the Justice Department would step into the fight to protect those seeking legal avenues of access to abortion, calling the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs case of “a devastating blow to reproductive freedom”.
Justice officials said the new task force would respond to a provision in Biden’s executive order to encourage private attorneys and law firms to provide pro bono services to patients and health care providers. The agency will also gather online resources, including legal briefs, and provide technical assistance to congressional lawmakers regarding legislative efforts to codify abortion protections.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, who served as lead counsel for the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, praised the Justice Department’s efforts, saying advocacy groups will need the power to additional legal fire. She said her organization was already involved in more than three dozen lawsuits and had filed several more after the Supreme Court ruling.
“We are already seeing the bullying in states that makes people afraid to share information about legal abortion services in other states,” Northup said. “It’s a really scary time.”