WA leaders react in support to Biden’s executive order on abortion access, call for more action
An executive order signed by President Joe Biden on Friday morning aims to protect access to reproductive health care — and while it has won the endorsement of several political and health leaders in Washington state, specific details about what he will do remains unclear.
The order denounces the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade and tries to protect those who seek abortions from the potential penalties they might face. The order, however, cannot restore access to abortion in more than a dozen states where strict limits or outright bans have gone into effect. Washington state abortion laws remain unchanged.
Biden acknowledged that his office’s powers are limited without congressional approval and that Democrats do not have the votes in the current Congress to restore abortion access nationwide.
“The fastest way to restore Roe is through national legislation,” Biden said Friday morning. “The challenge is to get out there and vote. For God’s sake, there are elections in November!
The executive order also directs the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services to push back on efforts to limit access to abortion drugs or to cross state lines to access abortion services, though it does not specify what those actions might be.
The order also directs agencies to educate medical providers and insurers about how and when they are required to share privileged patient information with authorities, in an effort to protect those seeking services. of abortion. The Federal Trade Commission was also named in the order, tasked with protecting patient privacy and establishing a task force to coordinate federal efforts to protect abortion access.
Biden also hopes to bring together pro bono private attorneys to encourage “strong” legal representation for those seeking or offering reproductive health care.
In Washington, state and health chiefs were quick to back Biden’s announcement, despite the limited effect the order might have.
“Every action to protect abortion access matters,” Governor Jay Inslee tweeted. “Thank you @POTUS for keeping the offensive going. Congress and the states need to do their part as well.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, also thanked the president for his actions and called on the Senate to “step up and act to codify Roe.”
US Senator Patty Murray applauded the order on Twitter, saying she is “happy to see [Biden] take additional action today, even with limited executive power.
Yet the order comes as Biden continues to face criticism from some members of his own party for not acting with more urgency to protect women’s access to abortion. While state officials have generally praised the president’s actions on social media, Murray noted that “the post-Roe health care crisis is urgent. This fight is far from over. »
Lawrence Gostin, who directs the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health at Georgetown Law, also described Biden’s plans as “disappointing,” The Associated Press reported.
“There is nothing I have seen that would affect the lives of ordinary poor women living in red states,” he said.
In Seattle, Mayor Bruce Harrell is seeking a $250,000 investment to expand access to reproductive health care through the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, which serves Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.
Seattle City Councilman Kshama Sawant also recently proposed that the council consider Seattle a “sanctuary city” for those seeking abortions, suggesting the city deter Seattle police from enforcing abortion bans. other states.
Additionally, King County Executive Dow Constantine added that the county would allocate $1 million to expanding abortion access, of which $500,000 would go to the Abortion Access Fund. Northwest and $500,000 in Public Health Emergency Funds – Seattle and King County.
The Seattle City Council would have to approve such an investment by the city.
Washington became the first state in the nation to legalize abortion in 1970, though protections were limited to the early months of pregnancy and conditional on the husband’s approval. A 1991 election initiative went further, guaranteeing the right to abortion up to the point of fetal viability.
This law will remain in force, regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision.
This year, state lawmakers also passed legislation to make abortion access language more inclusive and recognize the rights of transgender and non-binary people to reproductive health care.
But the state could see a large influx of abortion patients from states banning or restricting the procedure, according to estimates from reproductive rights research organizations, including the Guttmacher Institute.
The state Department of Health said in a statement Friday that while health officials “expect an increase in demand for abortion and related services,” the state is still determining how to best ensure access to those seeking care in Washington.
In May, Inslee told a reproductive rights rally that he would further “explore” codifying abortion rights into Washington law, though potential changes to the state Constitution would require a two-thirds majority in the State House and Senate and a popular vote.
Still, the country’s anti-abortion activists have gained momentum since Roe was ousted.
To mark the end of the court ruling, the national organization Students for Life is planning rallies in state capitals across the country, including in Washington, where the organization has 34 chapters. The rallies are intended to highlight “an even more focused pro-life effort at the state level,” according to a media advisory.
Material from the Seattle Times Archives and wire services is included in this report.