On Wednesday, President Joe Biden signed an executive order related to women who travel across state lines to obtain an abortion. The order directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to work with states and allow Medicaid to pay for the expenses related to women who do so.
This is the second executive order within one month that President Biden has signed in regards to abortion access since the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Center verdict that returned the decision regarding the legality of abortion to each state.
Biden’s executive order on Wednesday not only discusses potentially using federal funds to pay for abortion-related expenses, but it also asks HHS to consider providing technical assistance as well as providing new healthcare provider guidance regarding nondiscriminatory practices. The EO also orders HHS to “improve federal research and data collection a the national Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in order to evaluate the impact of the ruling on maternal health and reproductive care.”
Officials in the Biden Administration did not elaborate further on what the Medicaid waivers might detail, only that the details would be left up to the Department of Health and Human Services.
The order specifically reads: “(HHS) shall consider actions to advance access to reproductive healthcare services, including through Medicaid for patients traveling across State lines for medical care.”
Experts believe the executive order is a pathway for HHS to encourage state officials to apply for Section 1115 Medicaid waivers that would pay for “certain costs” that could be incurred when traveling for an abortion procedure.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the Medicaid funds would provide assistance to low-income women living in states with strict abortion regulations or bans so that they could travel to a state with more lax restrictions. “It’s going to help in particular low-income women; It paves the way for Medicaid to pay for abortions for women having to travel out of state.”
Pundits are questioning the legality of the executive order, as the Hyde Amendment bans the use of federal funds to pay for abortions with the exception of a danger to the life of the mother or in cases of pregnancy due to rape or incest. There could be Republican legal challenges to the direct order utilizing this amendment to nullify the EO.
The Biden Administration has been called upon to take more aggressive methods of preserving a woman’s access to abortion since the May leak of an early draft of the Dobbs ruling. Activists have marched outside the homes of Supreme Court justices and in front of the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill.
President Biden has, more than once, said that Congress must act to codify Roe v. Wade.
Many states had “trigger laws” set to go into effect immediately or within days of a Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe, and when the Dobbs ruling was announced on June 30, within ten days, many states had already set a ban on abortion with few exceptions (if any). Some states called special sessions to set the abortion law in their states as a result of the Supreme Court ruling.
The Hill reports that the White House had been considering utilizing Medicaid funds for abortion since the Dobbs ruling draft was leaked in early May. However, the Biden Administration has been loathe to fully declare a health emergency in regards to abortion access.
Even though President Biden signed the executive order Wednesday, Press Secretary Jean-Pierre told reporters that the administration was uncertain that the order would really have an effect on any resources or whether the order had much legal authority.
Abortion remains one of the hottest political topics in 2022; on Tuesday, Kansas citizens turned out and voted to protect abortion access in a state that is considered to lean Republican. President Biden has said that the American public needs to “elect more Democrats” if they want to protect access to abortion procedures.