United States President Joe Biden has signed an executive order that lays the groundwork for Medicaid to help women seeking abortions to travel between states to obtain access to the procedure.
The details of the new order, signed on Wednesday, are still being worked out, and the administration faces a challenging legal landscape because it is illegal to use federal funding to pay for abortions unless the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
However, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the Department of Health and Human Services would invite states where abortion remains legal to apply for permission to use Medicaid funds to “provide reproductive healthcare to women who live in states where abortion is banned”.
Like Biden’s first order signed in July, it is meant to address the recent Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade which opened the door for new restrictions on abortion at the state level.
The National Abortion Federation said Wednesday that it has seen more women asking for help travelling to get the procedure in the month after the decision. The organisation paid for 76 hotel rooms and booked 52 bus or plane trips, up from only a handful in the same time period last year.
Biden’s order also calls on healthcare providers to comply with federal non-discrimination laws and streamline the collection of key data and information on maternal health at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Biden described the court’s decision on abortion as a “healthcare crisis,” and he said he wants to make sure “every part of the federal government does its part at this critical moment where women’s health and lives are on line”.
The president’s actions come a day after Kansas voters rejected an effort to remove abortion protections from the state’s constitution. The vote was a resounding win for the abortion rights movement in the first statewide electoral test since the Supreme Court ruling.
“I don’t think the court has any notion for that matter or the Republican Party for that matter … how women are going to respond. They don’t have a clue about the power of American women,” Biden said. “Last night in Kansas they found out.”
He called the Kansas result a “decisive victory” and said voters in the state sent a “powerful signal” that makes clear politicians should not interfere with the fundamental rights of women.
“This fight is not over and we saw that last night in Kansas,” Biden said. The Supreme Court “practically dared women in this country go to the ballot box and restore the right to choose” that it had just stripped away, Biden said.
Last month, Biden said the Supreme Court, which is weighted six-three with conservative judges, was “out of control” after ruling in June to overturn Roe v Wade, ending a half-century of protections for women’s reproductive rights.
Separately, on Tuesday the US Department of Justice (DOJ) sued Idaho over the state’s near-total ban on abortion, saying the stringent ban denies pregnant women potentially life-saving medical care, and therefore “directly conflicts” with federal law.
The DOJ announced the lawsuit and claimed in a press release that the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) takes priority over Idaho’s abortion ban in cases where abortion could help stabilise an emergency medical condition. The EMTALA requires hospitals that receive federal funds to provide people with “necessary stabilising treatments” during a medical emergency.