Biden announces new measures to protect access to medical abortion

US president says he will continue to defend women’s right to choose on 50th anniversary of original Roe v Wade court ruling

US president Joe Biden has signed a presidential memorandum aimed at protecting access to abortion pills in the wake of the supreme court ruling last summer which eliminated the federal constitutional right to a termination.

In a statement on Sunday to mark the 50th anniversary of the original Roe v Wade court decision which set out the constitutional right to an abortion, the president said he would continue to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose.

The 1973 Roe v Wade ruling was overturned by the US supreme court last June in what is known as the Dobbs case. This court decision essentially sent the issue of abortion back to the various states in the US to determine what arrangements should apply.

Mr Biden said on Sunday: “Since the supreme court’s decision, Americans, time and time again, have made their voices heard: women should be able to make these deeply personal decisions free from political interference. Yet, Republicans in Congress and across the country continue to push for a national abortion ban, to criminalise doctors and nurses, and to make contraception harder to access. It is dangerous, extreme and out of touch.


“I’ll continue to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose. Congress must restore the protections of Roe v Wade in federal law – it’s the only way we can fully secure a woman’s right to choose in every state.”

The new presidential memorandum directs key figures in the US government including the secretary for health and the attorney general to consider new guidance to support patients, providers and pharmacies who wish to legally access, prescribe, or provide mifepristone (a drug which can bring about a medical abortion) – no matter where they live.

The memorandum also directs his government officials “to consider new actions to ensure that patients can access legal reproductive care, including medication abortion from a pharmacy, free from threats or violence”.

On Friday thousands of anti-abortion activists took part in the annual March for Life in Washington – the first such rally since the supreme court overturned the Roe v Wade decision.

On foot of the Dobbs decision last June, just over a dozen states have virtually eliminated access to abortion while others have expanded it and set out protections in law.

There have been questions as to the future direction of the anti-abortion movement after its success in having the Roe v Wade decision overturned.

At the March for Life on Friday the Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives Steve Scalise said: “That’s only the end of the first phase of this battle. The next phase now begins, and that’s what this year’s march is all about, the next steps in a post-Roe era.”

Details of the new presidential measures on abortion were set out by vice-president Kamala Harris in a speech in Florida on Sunday to mark the 50th anniversary of the Roe v Wade ruling.

Vice president Harris said the supreme court had taken away a fundamental right and a basic freedom from the women of America.

“The court’s action has meant already that many dedicated doctors and nurses now lose their ability to care for their patients, that providers risk going to jail just for doing their job and patients are denied critical care and fear they will be punished just for seeking care.”

“It has meant that a 10-year-old child in Ohio who had been sexually assaulted and became pregnant had to leave her home state and travel to another to receive care. It has meant that the doctor who treated her faced death threats and efforts to take away her medical licence.”

Ms Harris said the consequences of the supreme court ruling were not limited to reproductive care and that other basic healthcare was at risk.

She spoke about a 14-year-old girl in Arizona who managed her chronic arthritis with medication which could also cause pregnancy loss.

She said that within weeks of the supreme court ruling last June in the Dobbs case, the girl’s pharmacy initially refused to dispense her prescription out of fear it could be prosecuted under the state’s “radical law” regarding abortion.

“All these devastating experiences are the direct results of laws designed by extremists,” the vice president said.

Ms Harris said that in Florida healthcare providers faced prison for up to five years “for simply doing their job and now and the state has targeted medication abortion and even threatened pharmacists with criminal charges if they provide medication prescribed by medical professionals”.

She said that overall 22 states had announced they would not follow new federal rules that allowed women to get medication prescribed by their doctor from a certified pharmacy.

The vice president said Republicans in the US congress wanted a nationwide abortion ban, “some even from the moment of conception”.

“The right of every women in every state to make decisions about her own body was on the line.... How dare they. How dare they.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent