Lawmakers push Biden to declare public health emergency on abortion
Several Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), have called on Biden in recent days to declare a public health emergency to signal the seriousness with which the administration views the reversal of abortion rights and the impact it will have on women across the country. The letter from 81 Democratic lawmakers further adds to the pressure Biden has faced from his party to organize a more comprehensive response to conservative backsliding and to channel the anger and fear felt by millions of women.
Doctors and abortion rights advocates have warned that banning the procedure and the abortion pill would create a health crisis for millions of people, including those seeking care for miscarriages. Biden signed an executive order last week to ensure access to abortion drugs and emergency contraception.
“Abortion bans can unnecessarily impede life-saving medical procedures in the event of pregnancy complications or loss. Health experts warn that as a result of this disastrous decision, the maternal mortality rate in the United States – which is already the highest in the developed world – is certain to increase, with disproportionate impacts on communities in color,” the lawmakers wrote.
Biden said Sunday he was considering whether to consider declaring access to abortion a public health emergency. “It’s something that I’ve asked the… doctors in the administration to look into, if… I have the authority to do it and what impact it would have,” Biden said when asked. on the statement.
But some members of his administration have expressed reservations about such a move, arguing that it would not unlock significant new funds or powers or have a significant impact on access to abortion for women who live in states that have restricted or prohibited the procedure. Other officials, including within HHS, supported the move because it would signal that the White House is taking the issue seriously and could help the president politically.
Some legal experts have raised doubts about whether a declaration of a national emergency and a public health emergency would make a meaningful difference in what the administration could do. They also note that an emergency must end at some point, and that without congressional legislation, there is no end in sight.
The declarations could unlock new funds, but how those funds would be distributed or used remains unclear. But such a move would almost certainly be legally challenged by Republican attorneys general and could end up facing the same Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn. Roe vs. Wadesaid Lawrence Gostin, professor of medicine at Georgetown University and faculty director of its Institute for National and Global Health Law.
“I think [advocates] exaggerate the kinds of funding and power that would free up, and that there would be huge negative consequences to doing so,” Gostin said. “It calls on the courts to effectively limit the use of emergency powers even in real emergencies. … The legal side is full of perils for the administration.
A national emergency declaration, under the Stafford Act, is typically used in response to natural disasters, such as floods or hurricanes, and is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Trump and Biden administrations have also used it for the coronavirus pandemic, but the statement has not been used for a long-standing health issue like abortion. Legal experts have questioned its effectiveness in the fight against access to abortion.
A public health emergency declaration, issued by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, could provide new funding, but its policy impact is unclear.
HHS released updated guidelines on Monday making it clear that federal law trumps state abortion bans and protects clinicians’ judgment when administering treatment, including ending an abortion. pregnancy if necessary to stabilize a patient in an emergency situation.
Lawmakers applauded Biden’s executive order but said the administration’s job was not yet done.
“The executive order was a good start, but not a good place to stop,” Fletcher said. “To respond effectively, we must use all available tools to protect patients and healthcare providers, and declaring a public health emergency provides valuable tools.”