Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
Nearly seven dozen House Democrats on Tuesday demanded the Biden administration declare national and public health emergencies on abortion access in response to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.
Two Texas Democrats—U.S. Reps. Lloyd Doggett and Lizzie Fletcher—led 81 of their colleagues in making that demand with a letter to President Joe Biden and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.
The lawmakers also urged the administration to use its authorities under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act to help ensure continued access to medication abortion nationwide. Such calls have mounted since the high court’s right-wing majority issued its widely anticipated ruling last month.
“The Supreme Court’s radical and dangerous decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has precipitated a full-scale reproductive health crisis across our nation,” the letter states. “It has also plunged our health system into a state of uncertainty and upheaval that threatens patients’ lives.”
“Abortion bans can unnecessarily impede lifesaving medical procedures in the event of pregnancy complications or loss,” the document adds. “Health experts warn that in the aftermath of this disastrous ruling, the U.S. maternal mortality rate—which is already the highest in the developed world—is certain to rise, with disproportionate impacts on communities of color.”
The letter also notes the “spillover effects” of state bans, pointing to reports from providers that “patients in need of abortion are seeking care in other states, causing unprecedented strain on limited resources and delaying care for residents.”
NEW: In response to SCOTUS' wretched order to eliminate the constitutional right to reproductive freedom, I'm leading an effort with @RepFletcher, joined by 80+ colleagues, urging Biden Admin to issue national emergency and public health emergency declarations on abortion access. pic.twitter.com/5l75r1tnic
— Lloyd Doggett (@RepLloydDoggett) July 13, 2022
According to Doggett, the letter is endorsed by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and the Center for Reproductive Rights.
While the lawmakers and other supporters of the declarations highlight the benefits of additional flexibilities and funding, The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Biden administration is divided on the matter and legal experts have warned about both effectiveness and the risk of giving U.S. courts—full of right-wing judges installed by former President Donald Trump and GOP senators—the chance to limit the use of emergency powers.
As Georgetown University law professor Lawrence Gostin—who specializes in public health—put it: “The legal side is full of peril for the administration.”
Still, Biden is considering declaring a public health emergency. He told reporters Sunday, “That’s something [I’ve] asked the medical people in the administration to look at, whether I have the authority to do that and what impact that would have.”
President Joe Biden said he has asked his administration to consider whether he has the authority to declare an abortion-related public health emergency after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision https://t.co/PXcUjAf4LG pic.twitter.com/1IfTuTpSyM
— Reuters (@Reuters) July 10, 2022
Biden also emphasized the limits of his authority and said that the only way to truly ensure abortion access on a national scale is to pass a federal law through Congress.
House Democrats are set to vote this week on various related bills, including legislation to codify abortion access nationally. Similar efforts, however, have repeatedly failed in the Senate due to opposition from Republicans and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
While Biden last week signed an executive order to protect access to reproductive healthcare, his move suggested that the administration will not open abortion clinics on federal land in states with anti-choice laws, as some members of Congress and rights advocates have demanded.