Three months into his presidency, President Joe Biden has begun to ramp up his administration’s ambitious agenda on abortion access, the aggressive approach already yielding benefits for the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood.
Last week, Biden reversed a Trump administration rule barring groups who provide abortions or abortion referrals from receiving government funding from Title X, the country’s family-planning program for low-income patients.
When the “domestic gag rule,” as it was dubbed by abortion advocates, was introduced in 2019, Planned Parenthood responded by announcing that it would simply withdraw from Title X. If Biden’s rule is finalized, a process that can take several months, Planned Parenthood CEO Alexis McGill Johnson said the abortion provider may return to the program at some point next year.
Also last week, the Biden administration loosened restrictions around at-home medication abortions, a significant victory for pro-abortion groups. In a reversal of a Trump-era policy, FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said her agency would stop enforcing a restriction requiring women using abortion pills to obtain the first drug in the two-dose regimen, mifepristone, in person from a medical provider. The FDA will now allow women to obtain the pills by mail during the coronavirus pandemic.
Pro-life groups were quick to point out the FDA’s own data from 2018 showing 768 hospitalizations and 24 deaths since 2000 among women using abortion pills, along with thousands of cases of infections, blood loss requiring a transfusion, and other adverse events.
“With this action, the Biden administration has made it clear that it will prioritize abortion over women’s safety. Allowing unsupervised chemical abortions via telemedicine, without requiring timely access to medical care, will put women in grave danger,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life.
Last month, Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken scrapped the recommendations of a State Department commission on unalienable rights set up by his predecessor, saying the new administration will “repudiate those unbalanced views.” The now-disbanded commission had emphasized in a report that Americans are not of one mind on abortion rights and rebuked “the temptation to cloak a contestable political preference in the mantle of human rights.”
The administration’s recent moves in favor of abortion access come after Biden kicked off his presidency with a reversal of another Trump administration rule and a renewed commitment to ensuring access to abortion on demand.
Just eight days after he was inaugurated, Biden repealed the Trump administration’s expanded version of the Mexico City Policy, known as the “global gag rule,” which prohibits taxpayer dollars going to foreign non-governmental organizations that perform or promote abortion. Trump had expanded the Reagan-era policy’s funding restrictions to apply to all global health organizations that receive U.S. government funding rather than solely family planning organizations.
Two days after they were sworn in, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris reemphasized their commitment to codifying Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide. Overturning the landmark decision has become a white whale of sorts for abortion opponents.
In a statement, Biden and Harris also assured that they would leverage the judiciary in support of abortion access as well, appointing judges that “respect foundational precedents like Roe.”
Along the same lines, and in what would be one of the administration’s most progressive moves, Biden is expected to attempt to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which bars direct taxpayer funding of elective abortions under Medicaid.
“I can’t justify leaving millions of women without access to the care they need and the ability to exercise their constitutionally protected right,” Biden said in June 2019 during his campaign. “If I believe health care is a right as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s zip code.”
However, the administration hedged in January when asked whether Biden, a staunch supporter of the amendment for decades, planned to scrap it. During her very first press conference on Inauguration Day, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki dodged a reporter’s question on the issue and declared that the president “is a devout Catholic and somebody who attends church regularly.”
Biden’s attacks on the Hyde Amendment propel Democrats into relatively new ideological territory. Even Biden’s former boss, President Obama, signed an order preserving the amendment, which attempts to ensure that taxpayers who do not support abortion are not forced to fund something at odds with their conscience. Before the Hyde Amendment took effect in 1980, Medicaid was paying for about 300,000 abortions a year.
Biden also strongly supports passing the Equal Rights Amendment, which abortion advocates have long argued would enshrine the right to abortion in law and nullify restrictions on taxpayer funding, but the amendment still faces an uphill battle to being incorporated into the Constitution.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood continues to receive millions of dollars in emergency pandemic aid in recent weeks, even after the abortion provider came under fire last year for snatching up federal coronavirus relief meant for small businesses. Affiliates of the massive nonprofit have received at least $8 million in relief this year from the Paycheck Protection Program on top of the about $80 million that affiliates across the country were awarded by the program last year toward the beginning of the pandemic.
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