Biden unveils new order to protect access to contraception

US President Joe Biden has signed an executive order that aims to strengthen access to contraception in the United States, as the country nears the one-year anniversary of a Supreme Court decision that overturned the constitutional right to abortion.

The White House said on Friday that Biden’s order would increase the affordability of contraception and family planning services, as Republican-led states seek to roll back access to reproductive healthcare.

The Biden administration has faced calls to do more to defend reproductive healthcare in the aftermath of the US Supreme Court’s June 24, 2022 decision to overturn its landmark 1973 abortion ruling, known as Roe v Wade.

More than a dozen Republican-led states have introduced new restrictions or banned the procedure entirely since that 2022 ruling – known as Dobbs – was issued, raising concerns among rights advocates who have argued the crackdown on abortion will put millions of people at risk.

“Since the day the Dobbs decision came down, one year ago tomorrow, we’ve seen the devastating effects all across the country,” Biden said on Friday.

“Women turned away from emergency rooms, denied lifesaving care. Moms, college students, teachers, nurses, travelling hundreds of miles to get basic reproductive healthcare.”

“Today, more than 23 million women of reproductive age live in one of the 18 states with an abortion ban that is in effect,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday.

“Access to contraception has become more important than ever following the Supreme Court’s decision and ensuing crisis for women’s health.”

The White House has previously fought legal efforts by anti-abortion rights groups to stem access to abortion pills such as mifepristone, which has become a central point of contention in the fight over reproductive healthcare in the US after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Some Republican presidential candidates also have discussed the possibility of taking abortion restrictions further and applying them at the national level.

On Friday, for example, former Vice President Mike Pence – who is seeking the 2024 GOP nomination – called on his fellow candidates to embrace a national abortion ban at 15 weeks of pregnancy.

“We must not rest and we must not relent until we restore the sanctity of life to the centre of American law in every state in this country,” Pence said. “Every Republican candidate for president should support a ban on abortion before 15 weeks as a minimum nationwide standard.”

Such efforts, however, have proven largely unpopular, with American voters rejecting bans when they appear on the ballot or approving measures to protect and expand abortion access.

Democrats have sought to capitalise on the unpopularity of abortion restrictions, hammering Republicans and highlighting the issue in political campaigns.

Friday’s executive order directs federal departments to consider ways to boost access to affordable, over-the-counter contraception, including emergency contraception, the White House said. This could include convening pharmacies, employers, and insurers to explore the issue.

It also directed the government to consider requiring private insurers to offer expanded contraception options under the Affordable Care Act, such as by covering more than one product and streamlining the process for obtaining care.

Several of the nation’s largest abortion rights organisations, including Planned Parenthood Action Fund, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Emily’s List, endorsed Biden’s 2024 re-election bid on Friday.

They decided to throw their early support behind the president in part to highlight the importance of the issue for Democrats heading into the election year, the groups’ leaders told The Associated Press news agency.

“The longer these bans are in place, the more people either will know someone who has experienced something or read a terrible story,” said Mini Timmaraju, head of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

“They have to make a decision about where to go to college based on the states with the bans. They have to make a decision about whether to practice medicine based on an abortion ban. It’s permeating everyday life now, and it’s having unintended consequences.”

For their part, anti-abortion rights conservatives have continued to push for further restrictions.

“We’re certainly going to do everything that we can, as an organisation and as a pro-life [pro-abortion rights] and pro-family movement, to give our candidates a little bit of a testosterone booster shot and explain to them that they should not be on the defensive,” said Ralph Reed, founder of the anti-abortion rights group Faith and Freedom Coalition.

“Those who are afraid of it need to, candidly, grow a backbone.”

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