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Kamala Harris looks on as Joe Biden signs an Executive Order "to strengthen access to affordable, high-quality contraception.". Kamala Harris looks on as Joe Biden signs an Executive Order "to strengthen access to affordable, high-quality contraception.". The White House Twitter

Capping off a year of aggressive action on abortion, White House announces ‘Fight for Reproductive Freedoms Tour’

After a year of promoting abortion access despite recent Supreme Court rulings, the Biden Administration is doubling down as we enter into 2024.

(NCR) The White House announced Tuesday that Vice President Kamala Harris will go on a “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” tour across the country in 2024. The tour will begin in Wisconsin on Jan. 22 — the 51st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision which widely legalized abortion in 1973 before it was overturned in the Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision returning the issue to the states.

The announcement indicates that the Biden administration will continue to focus on expanding access to abortion following a year of executive action and guidance on the issue, as 14 states have put pro-life laws in place barring abortion in most cases.

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Expanding abortion pill access

At the very beginning of 2023, the Food and Drug Administration said it would allow any patient with a prescription to obtain the abortion inducing drug mifepristone from a local retail pharmacy that is certified to dispense the drug. Previously, the drug could only be obtained through certified doctors, abortion facilities, and some mail-order pharmacies.

The Biden administration identified access to the abortion drug mifepristone as a “key priority” following the Dobbs ruling. This year, it has been defending the push for wider abortion pill access in the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA case. Pro-life groups and individuals filed suit in November 2022 alleging that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration disregarded safety concerns and protocols in approving and deregulating the abortion pill.

In August the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated pre-2016 FDA restrictions to the pill, which included a reinstatement of the in-person dispensing requirement that helps to screen for conditions where use of the pill would be dangerous to the woman, such as ectopic pregnancy or a gestational age past 10 weeks.

However, the Supreme Court ruled earlier in April that mifepristone would remain available under the post-2016 regulations for the duration of the litigation process. The Supreme Court has taken up the case this term.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre said in a December statement, following the Supreme Court agreeing to review the Fifth Circuit’s decision on mifepristone, that the Fifth Circuit court’s ruling “threatens to undermine the FDA’s scientific, independent judgment and would reimpose outdated restrictions on access to safe and effective medication abortion.”

“As the Department of Justice continues defending the FDA’s actions before the Supreme Court, President Biden and Vice President Harris remain firmly committed to defending women’s ability to access reproductive care,” she added.

She also highlighted the administration’s continued push to allow abortion access across the country, saying “we continue to urge Congress to pass a law restoring the protections of Roe v. Wade — the only way to ensure the right to choose for women in every state.”

The administration has a government website, reproductiverights.gov that says: “Reproductive health care, including access to birth control and safe and legal abortion care, is an essential part of your health and well-being” and features a message that “medication abortion continues to be approved and available for the time being” amid the ongoing court case.

Tweet This: Kamala Harris will go on a “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” tour across the U.S. beginning Jan. 22 — the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Full reversal on Roe

On the first anniversary of the Dobbs decision in June, President Biden said that “overturning Roe v. Wade, which had been the law of the land for nearly half a century, has already had devastating consequences.” Biden, who was baptized Catholic, held a different stance when he began his Senate career in 1973, stating at the time that the Supreme Court had gone “too far” on abortion in the Roe v. Wade decision.

His statement on the anniversary of the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe called the pro-life laws, currently limiting or barring abortion in 21 states, “extreme and dangerous abortion bans that put the health and lives of women in jeopardy, force women to travel hundreds of miles for care, and threaten to criminalize doctors for providing the health care that their patients need and that they are trained to provide.”

Biden vowed that his administration “will continue to protect access to reproductive health care" and called on "Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law once and for all.”

The Biden administration-backed legislative measure to “restore” Roe is the Women’s Health Protection Act which would actually go far beyond the 1973 decision, barring state pro-life laws allowed under Roe and permitting abortions “after viability” under a broad “health of the patient” exception.

Proposed HIPAA privacy rule change

One proposed rule change from the Biden administration in April took aim at law enforcement’s ability to access information about abortion procedures in order to enforce pro-life laws.

The Department of Health and Human Services proposed a change to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) — which provides rules that protect patient’s private healthcare information — that would prevent information on “reproductive health” from being turned over to authorities except in certain circumstances.

The proposed HHS rule would bar healthcare providers and insurers from turning over protected health information for “the purpose of conducting a criminal, civil, or administrative investigation into or proceeding against the individual, a health care provider, or other person in connection with seeking, obtaining, providing, or facilitating reproductive health care.”

It would apply if reproductive health care takes place “outside of the state where the investigation or proceeding is authorized” and is “lawful in the state in which it is provided.” It would also apply if the reproductive health care “is protected, required, or authorized by Federal law, regardless of the state” in which it is provided. Another scenario in which it would apply would be if it is provided “in the state in which the investigation or proceeding is authorized” and “permitted by the law of that state.”

Defunding pro-life pregnancy centers

In another recent proposed rule change that was criticized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, HHS proposed another change in October to restrict Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding going to pregnancy resource centers (PRCs), requiring states to prove that “the expenditure actually accomplishes the TANF purpose,” claiming that their “connection to preventing and reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies is tenuous or non-existent.”

The USCCB’s Office of the General Counsel stated in a petition to HHS that the proposed rule “risks mischaracterizing all PRCs and significantly understating the scope of their work. In doing so, it also risks setting up even the TANF-fulfilling work of PRCs for defunding, whether by HHS’s preemptively requiring exacting research that may not be readily available or by dissuading states from taking on a new paperwork burden in affording TANF funding to PRCs.”

The bishops pointed out that many pro-life pregnancy resource centers “provide information or counseling about chastity or natural family planning, to help prevent future out-of-wedlock pregnancies” and that “the broad range of services by some PRCs can fulfill the other purposes of TANF as well. For example, some provide transportation or child care for clients’ job interviews, contributing to the second TANF purpose ‘by promoting job preparation, work … .’ Others provide parenting classes which, especially with respect to fathers, can serve the fourth purpose, to ‘encourage the … maintenance of two-parent families.’”

The bishops highlighted data showing that “approximately 3,000 PRCs serve about 2 million people per year, many with an array of needed services including sexual risk avoidance, prenatal, and parenting education; referrals for housing, food, adoption, and other services.”

Editor's note: This article is reprinted with permission from the National Catholic Register – www.ncregister.com.

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