Joe Biden, warning that anti-abortion legislators will target contraception next, will sign an executive directive Friday to federal agencies directing them to develop a variety of rules to ensure greater access to birth control and lower costs.
The order instructs agencies to use the existing laws to create additional protections for federal institutions and people, including veterans, federal employees, and federal service members. The order also requires agencies to create "best practices" to increase access to contraception among students and those covered by private insurance.
The order is in line with other measures taken by the Biden Administration to increase access to abortion. However, GOP-run state have greatly restricted abortion rights after the Supreme Court's Dobbs V. Jackson Women's Health ruling removed guaranteed rights one year ago.
Jennifer Klein, Director of the White House Gender Policy Council told reporters during a conference call that "contraception is not able to replace abortion services, or fill in the gaps" left by states where women no longer have access to abortion. However, it's important for women to be able make their own decisions regarding their lives, families, and health.
Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris will speak on Friday, ahead of Saturday's one-year anniversary of the Dobbs decision. This ruling reversed the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe V. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Harris will speak about the issue on Saturday in North Carolina, a swing state. This underscores the importance of abortion in the 2020 campaign.
The order also includes a directive for the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Treasury and Labor, to review new guidelines to ensure that private health insurers will cover all FDA-approved contraceptives with no cost sharing. Klein stated that some private insurers cover only one item per contraceptive category regardless of the prescription from a doctor, limiting access for certain patients.
The order also instructs these three agencies to come up with ways to increase access to over-the counter contraception. Klein explained that the order was mostly aimed at emergency contraception. Klein said that the FDA is evaluating whether birth control pills should be available over-the-counter. However, this process is handled independently by an independent regulatory agency.
Biden will also direct agencies to examine new ways to lower the cost of contraception and expand access for Medicare patients, some of whom are in childbearing years and disabled. In the executive order, agencies will be asked to look at ways to improve Medicare coverage and payment of birth control.
Defense, Veteran Affairs, and the Office of Personnel Management will be given orders to find ways to increase access and coverage to federal employees, veterans, and active-duty military personnel. Under the order, the secretary of education is also directed to find ways of ensuring that students are aware of their contraceptive options and access.
The Dobbs ruling did not address contraception directly, but its underlying premise was the right of privacy. This right of privacy had been expanded in the 1965 ruling Griswold v. Connecticut which established the right of birth control.
There are signs that social conservatives may be targeting contraception as their next target. In a concurring opinion on the Dobbs decision, Justice Clarence Thomas said that the high court should "reconsider" previous rulings regarding contraception, same sex marriage, and same sex relationships.
Joe Lombardo - the new GOP governor - vetoed the law.
Klein remarked that Texas refuses to cover emergency contraception costs for women and girls with low incomes who are enrolled in the family planning program. She said that in Iowa, the state Attorney General has suspended payment of emergency contraception to sexual assault victims.
She noted that in states with severe restrictions on abortion, many health clinics have closed. These clinics provided both contraception and abortion services, which has left women and girls in rural areas with few options for birth control.
Klein stated that the order did not signify the administration had done everything possible to increase the availability of abortions in a nation where the access to this option is rapidly and dramatically shrinking.