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Biden to present plans to state, local leaders to protect abortion access

President Biden participates in a rally for the Democratic National Committee at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Md., on Aug. 25. (Yuri Gripas/Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The White House is sending a letter to the nation’s governors and convening a meeting with state and local leaders about protecting access to abortion, as the Biden administration seeks to highlight its work on protecting reproductive rights on Women’s Equality Day.

But Friday’s efforts don’t amount to any major new policy announcements, which could frustrate some abortion rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers who have urged the administration to push the boundaries of what’s allowed. The efforts come as roughly 20.9 million women have lost access to nearly all elective abortions in their home states, representing a massive shift in abortion access in the two months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The meeting at the White House will include Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D), of Baltimore; Mayor Elaine M. O’Neal of Durham, N.C.; and Alexander S. Mackler, Delaware’s chief deputy attorney general and more. Biden administration officials planare planning to discuss how states can protect access to abortion and how the federal government can offer its assistance, according to senior administration officials who spoke to reporters Thursday on the condition of anonymity because of guidelines set by the administration.

Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services will release a report outlining an action plan and will send a letter to the nation’s governors focused on Medicaid, as well as stressing that abortions must be performed during medical emergencies.

New restrictions from major abortion funder could further limit access

Last month, HHS issued updated guidance to a decades-old federal emergency medical law reminding doctors they must terminate a pregnancy if doing so is necessary to stabilize a patient. Not complying carries steep penalties: Providers could face fines or be booted from the Medicare program.

The letter will “underscore to our governors that state antiabortion laws don’t negate providers’ responsibilities in these states to comply with federal laws that protect access to emergency health care,” a senior administration official said.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration persuaded a federal judge to block a portion of an Idaho law that would criminalize performing an abortion on a woman to protect her health. It was the first legal victory for President Biden since the Supreme Court overturned Roe’s decades-old protections, and the Justice Department centered the lawsuit around its interpretation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA).

Judge blocks part of Idaho’s abortion law from taking effect

“Where a state purports to prohibit providers from offering the emergency care that EMTALA requires, HHS will not hesitate to refer the matter to the Department of Justice to take appropriate legal action,” the letter from HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said.

But a judge in Texas ruled earlier this week that the federal statute doesn’t require states to allow abortions in instances when it could protect a pregnant woman’s health, setting up a potential legal clash.

The letter also will invite states to develop and apply for waivers to allow their Medicaid programs to provide increased access to care to help patients traveling out of state for abortions.

Biden this month directed his health secretary to consider actions to assist patients traveling out of state for abortions, such as by potentially having them apply to make changes to their Medicaid programs.

The report released by HHS also didn’t include new policy announcements, but stated the department will work to ensure access to free birth control, consider more grants for clinics focused on sexual and reproductive health, and attempt to counter inaccurate information.