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Biden’s efforts to protect abortion access face hurdles

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Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling, about half of states have implemented some type of abortion restrictions, with at least 11 states essentially banning the procedure.

President Joe Biden speaks about abortion access during a Democratic National Committee event at the Howard Theater, October 18, 2022, in Washington. Evan Vucci/AP Photo The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is still actively seeking ways to protect access to abortion for millions of women, even as it comes up against a complex web of tough new state laws enacted in the months that followed the removal of constitutional law by the Supreme Court.

Seeking to seize momentum after a midterm election where voters have widely rebuked tougher abortion restrictions, there is new pressure in the White House to find ways to help women in the States which have substantially prohibited or restricted processing, and keep the issue in mind. for voters.

In reality, however, the administration is shackled by a ban on federal funding for most abortions, a conservative-leaning Supreme Court inclined to rule against abortion rights, and a divided Congress unwilling to pass legislation. On the question.

Meanwhile, frustration on the ground in the most abortion-restricted states is growing.

“It’s not going away anytime soon,” said Jen Klein of the Biden administration’s Gender Policy Council. “Tens of millions of Americans live under bans of all kinds, many of them quite extreme, and even in states where abortion is legal, we are all seeing the impact on providers and on systems burdened by people crossing state lines.”

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling, about half of states have implemented some type of abortion restrictions, with at least 11 states essentially banning the procedure.

Administration officials are meeting Tuesday and Wednesday with state lawmakers ahead of their 2023 sessions, including in states where more extreme bans are on the table, and will discuss safeguarding rights and helping women to access care as major problems. The meetings follow meetings with about nine Democratic governors, attorneys general and lawmakers from more than 30 states.

The administration, meanwhile, is implementing Biden’s executive orders signed in July and August that directed federal agencies to push back on abortion restrictions and protect women traveling out of state to seek one, though. that some women’s rights advocates say it doesn’t go far enough.

And there are still other avenues for the administration to explore, said Kathleen Sebelius, former US health and human services secretary.

HHS could seek to wield its power around federal protections for health care providers, life-saving abortions, abortion pills and travel for women in states where abortion is restricted, she said. During his tenure, for example, the agency made some policy maneuvers to expand the rights of same-sex couples, including requiring all hospitals receiving federal funds to allow their patients to choose a same-sex partner. sex as a visitor, years before gay marriage was legalized.

“It’s amazing how far-reaching the agency’s powers are and how much creative thinking can go on,” Sebelius said.

Already, the Justice Department has sued Idaho over its restrictive abortion policy and charged at least 20 people accused of obstructing access to abortion clinics. Attorney General Merrick Garland said he would protect women’s right to travel interstate for medical treatment.

Veterans and their beneficiaries can access abortion, even in states that have banned it, through the Department of Veterans Affairs in cases where the life or health of the woman is in danger or in case rape or incest. The Department of Defense will cover vacation and travel costs for soldiers seeking abortions if they are not available in their state.

The Federal Trade Commission sued at least one data broker for selling information that tracks people to reproductive healthcare clinics, while the Federal Communication Commission reminded 15 cellphone carriers of privacy laws in a recent letter.

Perhaps most consequential, the Department of Health and Human Services has told hospitals they “must” offer abortions if a mother’s life is in danger. The agency cited federal law, called the Occupational and Emergency Medical Treatment Act, or EMTALA, which requires medical facilities to provide treatment if a person may be in labor or facing a medical condition. ’emergency.

But “no executive action can replace nearly 50-year-old precedent,” Klein said. “The most important thing is to fight for national legislation.”

None are to come in the lame session before Republicans take control of the House. And Biden is limited in what else he can do.

Indeed, the administration’s actions so far have made little difference in Ohio, said Kellie Copeland, executive director of Pro-Choice Ohio. A law that would essentially ban abortion once fetal heart activity is detected awaits a court decision. Currently, abortion is prohibited at 22 weeks, state Medicaid funds cannot be used for abortion, and parental consent is required for a minor to receive care.

“I can say that as an Ohio defenseman nobody says, ‘Oh wow, that made a difference,'” Copeland said. “The impact was not felt.”

Copeland’s organization is one of more than 50 local advocacy groups and abortion clinics in states and cities that asked the president in an August letter to provide travel and childcare vouchers. children to people living in states where abortion is banned, to introduce federal protections for the shipment of abortion pills. , and rally hospital advocates to reiterate that doctors must perform abortions in life-saving situations.

Meanwhile, chaos reigns at hospitals in the nation’s most restrictive states, where doctors treating critically ill pregnant patients must weigh their medical recommendations against potential penalties like jail time. Reports of sick pregnant women being turned away by doctors or facing dangerous delays in medical care are pouring in.

HHS is investigating at least one Missouri hospital after officials there refused to let doctors perform an abortion on a woman during a medical emergency, but won’t say how many complaints it has received against providers or the system hospitable for not saving life care.

In August, HHS also urged states to apply for Medicaid waivers that would free up federal funds to pay travel expenses for women who live in states where abortion procedures have been severely restricted.

Not a single state applied, though the agency said it was in talks with officials in some states about nominations.

In Louisiana, where abortion is banned except in certain cases where a mother’s life is at stake, federal travel policies are likely to have the most impact, said Michelle Erenberg of the advocacy group New Orleans-based abortion rights activist Lift Louisiana.

She does not hope that other federal proposals will make it easier for women to access abortions directly in the state.

“It’s a bit frustrating,” Erenberg said. “Furthermore, we understand there is little the administration can do when a state like Louisiana has decided to enact a near-total ban on abortion care.”



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