Jul 13, 2022 - Health

Over 80 House Democrats urge Biden to declare public health emergency on abortion

Picture of Joe Biden
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

More than 80 House Democrats sent a letter to President Biden on Tuesday urging him to issue a national emergency declaration and a public health emergency declaration in response to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

Driving the news: Biden told reporters over the weekend that he is considering issuing a public health emergency on abortion. However, the White House has said that it is not "a great option" because doing so "doesn’t free very many resources."

Details: "The Supreme Court’s radical and dangerous decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has precipitated a full-scale reproductive health crisis across our nation," the lawmakers led by Reps. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas) and Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said in the letter, which was also addressed to Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra.

  • "Abortion bans can unnecessarily impede life-saving medical procedures in the event of pregnancy complications or loss. Health experts warn that in the aftermath of this disastrous ruling, the U.S. maternal mortality rate ... is certain to rise, with disproportionate impacts on communities of color."
  • "In making your determination about issuing a Public Health Emergency declaration, we urge you to also consider the spillover effects of state laws banning abortion on the health systems in neighboring states that protect the legal right to abortion."
  • "Abortion providers have reported that patients in need of abortion are seeking care in other states, causing unprecedented strain on limited resources and delaying care for residents."
  • The White House and HHS did not immediately respond to Axios' requests for comment.

State of play: The lawmakers are also asking the Biden administration to "use your authority under the PREP Act" to ensure access to abortion pills across the country.

  • The Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act allows the HHS to issue a PREP Act declaration, which provides immunity from liability for certain claims, including if the HHS secretary considers said claim to be a public health emergency.

Between the lines: If an emergency declaration is issued, it remains unclear how federal funds would be used.

  • Republican states could potentially sue the Biden administration to "limit the use of emergency powers," legal experts told The Washington Post.
  • In general, while the Biden administration can take steps to inform the public on what reproductive rights they have, it cannot prevent states from banning or restricting abortion since that is now a state issue.

What they're saying: Abortion rights advocates praised the House lawmakers' letter.

  • "Roughly half the states in our country are at risk of banning abortion, and extremist lawmakers are already enforcing bans in a growing number of states. We’re grateful to Congressional Democrats" for asking the Biden administration to take emergency action, said Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights organization.
  • "This public health crisis is becoming more dire by the day," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights, adding that she is "heartened" by the steps the Biden administration has taken to protect abortion access.

Go deeper: Health experts see rise in maternal mortality post-Roe

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