President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Friday protecting access to reproductive rights and patient privacy, even as he continued to urge Americans to vote to counter the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
"I'm asking the Justice Department, much like they did in the civil rights era, to ... do everything in their power to protect these women seeking to invoke their rights in states where clinics are still open," he said. "To protect them from intimidation. To protect the right of women to travel from a state that prohibits seeking medical attention that she needs to a state [that] provides that care. To protect a woman's right to FDA-approved medication that's been available for over 20 years."
The order directs Health and Human Services to protect access to contraception and medication abortion, preserve patient privacy, and ensure the safety of patients, providers, and clinics.
The White House will also establish a task force on reproductive healthcare access to coordinate federal agencies and offer the attorney general's support to states with legal protections for providers and out-of-state patients.
Democrats have faced fierce backlash for their response to the court gutting the constitutional right to abortion. In the weeks since the decision, top Democratic leaders have fundraised off it and urged people to vote, courting criticism over the party's lack of action despite having control over Congress and the executive branch.
Calling the ruling a "terrible, extreme, and, I think, so totally wrongheaded decision" in his speech, Biden repeatedly urged people to participate in the November elections, saying it was "the only way" to restore abortion rights.
"We need two additional pro-choice senators and a pro-choice House to codify Roe as federal law. Your vote can make that a reality. I know it's frustrating, and it made a lot of people very angry. But the truth is this," he said. "The court now practically dares the women of America to go to the ballot box and restore the very rights they've just taken away."
The Biden administration has also been criticized for failing to act sooner; a draft of the Supreme Court opinion was leaked to Politico on May 2, more than 50 days before the final ruling was announced.
Some Democrats have shot down calls to scrap the filibuster, which requires 60 votes in the Senate — the Democrats have 50 seats in the chamber — for most bills to pass. However, Biden and several others have said in recent weeks they would back a filibuster carve-out to codify abortion rights, though it's unclear if that would have support from all 50 Democratic senators.
"We are glad to see the White House start to implement a whole of government approach to abortion access. But this plan, which the White House committed to months ago, is both late and not enough," Morgan Hopkins, the interim director of All* Above All, an abortion justice organization, said in a statement Friday. "This isn't theoretical — every day since this decision, more people are being denied care."
Frontera Fund, an abortion fund for people in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas that has temporarily paused funding, similarly said the order does not do enough.
“Biden’s executive order is not the bold action that those seeking abortion care deserve," co-chair Alexis Bay said in a statement. "While there is a directive to protect self-managed abortions and contraceptives, we need federal action that goes much further to address the realities of dismantled reproductive health care laws."
Meanwhile, abortion providers and advocates continue to fight to keep the last clinics open in several states, and abortion funds are helping people cross state lines to terminate their pregnancies. Twenty-six states are expected to enact strict or wholesale abortion bans, according to the Guttmacher Institute. At least 16 states and the District of Columbia have laws protecting the right to abortion, and medication abortions are still widely available despite anti-abortion lawmakers' attempts to restrict access in multiple states.