As the nation continues to navigate the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, several Texas Democrats and abortion advocates called on the Biden administration to take immediate and direct action to protect Texans’ access to abortion.
First on their list of requests in a letter to the White House was for President Joe Biden to declare a public health emergency to ensure telehealth providers can dispense abortion-inducing medication without interruption.
“President Biden can provide a huge amount of support by making sure that you can see a health care provider, call them by phone, talk to them by telehealth, and then have medication abortion sent by mail into the state from a state where abortion is currently not banned,” said Greg Casar, a Democratic candidate for Congress. He was part of a group that introduced the strategy in Dallas, where state Democrats were holding their convention. More than 50 state and federal lawmakers, candidates and abortion advocacy groups signed the letter to the White House.
Also included in that letter were requests to support abortion funds across the country, increase legal protections for reproductive health care providers, establish a program to increase distribution of abortion medication, and invoke the federal government’s supremacy over state laws that conflict with the Food and Drug Administration-approved regimen for medically induced abortions.
Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, Biden has talked about changes on the federal level to address abortion access. He has said he supports a change in the U.S. Senate’s rules on filibusters to help move legislation legalizing abortion rights. His administration has also provided guidance saying that doctors can perform abortions in emergencies — that guidance is now the subject of a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office. On Friday, the U.S. House passed a bill that protected a person’s right to interstate travel to seek an abortion.
Texas Republican lawmakers have said that even with Roe v. Wade overturned, they still have work to do. They have cited a stronger focus on improving the state’s adoption programs and preventing pregnant Texans from leaving the state for abortions.
In asking Biden to declare a public health emergency to protect providers who distribute abortion medication via telehealth, Texas Democrats and abortion rights advocates said that Biden could override the state’s ban of these treatments after 7 weeks of pregnancy by invoking the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act.
The letter also called for support of out-of-state abortion funds and telehealth organizations that can provide abortion medication to Texas residents. Democratic leaders pitched a program in which federal government employees could volunteer to dispense medication for abortions. “Because they are federal employees or federal contractors, choosing to do this work, they would actually be immune from state lawsuits,” Casar said Saturday.
The end of Roe v. Wade has left Texans in a state of uncertainty given the state’s tangled laws surrounding reproductive health care. The work of abortion funds, which help individuals pay for an abortion, has halted in and out of the state. Medical professionals have similarly expressed confusion over what care they can provide, which experts say could lead to patients being turned away or receiving delayed treatments.
Caroline Duble, the political director of Avow Texas, an abortion rights advocacy group, called on Biden’s support for medication abortion as one of the last feasible tools for those who can’t travel out of state. “The people in Texas and across this country will continue to need and seek abortions, which under this political landscape will result in the criminalization and surveillance of pregnant people," she said. "Like all increased surveillance, this will fall hardest on Black and Indigenous people, undocumented folks, low-income families, young Texans and queer and trans people.”