As the Inauguration approaches, it’s a good moment to focus on some of the executive actions a Biden-Harris administration can take to improve access to family planning services and abortion care in the wake of a federal administration has consistently expanded and escalated attacks on reproductive health and rights.
Family Planning Services
President-Elect Joe Biden has publicly committed to repealing the “Domestic Gag Rule,” which was instated via administrative rule changes championed by the Trump-Pence administration and submitted by the Office of Population Affairs that manages the Title X federal family planning program.
The rule uses abortion as a wedge issue, forcing many family planning providers who also provide abortions to exit the previously successful and bipartisan program established in 1970 to ensure sexual and reproductive health care access for low-income women, teens, and their families.
The administrative rule changes and subsequent fallout led to reducing nearly half the nationwide network capacity to provide family planning services—contraception, STI testing and treatment, and wellness exams—for low-income Americans.
A reversal of these punitive Title X regulations would allow the nation’s family planning network to begin rebuilding and restoring access to contraception during a pandemic that has underscored for many the importance of preventing and space pregnancies.
The so-called “Global Gag Rule (GGR)” is also one that a Biden-Harris administration must act to repeal quickly. The GGR rule prohibits U.S. government funding to international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who might perform abortions or even counsel patients on the full range of pregnancy options. To matters worse, the Trump-Pence administration extended the reach of the GGR by forbidding any NGO receiving U.S. aid from using any of their other funds from any source to provide or promote abortion as a reproductive option.
Like the Domestic Gag Rule, this administrative rule change instigated a reduction of critical sexual and reproductive health care services in developing countries during a global pandemic. The resulting clinic closures—especially in rural areas—and rising rates of HIV/AIDS have devastated some of the world’s poorest nations and lowered America’s standing as a supporter of global public health initiatives.
It is no secret that the President-Elect has supported the discriminatory Hyde Amendment in the past until a sudden 180 degree turn on the issue during the summer of 2019. Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris even challenged Biden on his past support for Hyde during a debate. Harris has long spoken publicly against the Hyde Amendment and supports the Women’s Health Protection Act’s passage.
The Hyde Amendment was first adopted by Congress in 1976 and has been renewed each year since then. Hyde bans federal funding for abortion, with exceptions for rape, incest, and endangerment of a pregnant person’s life—exceptions that are difficult to access and often denied.
The Biden-Harris administration must be vocal about Hyde’s discriminatory impacts, which effectively serves as an insurance ban on abortion for Medicaid recipients, people accessing care through the Indian Health Service, Peace Corps volunteers, military personnel, and federal employees. Notably, the Hyde Amendment has pushed meaningful abortion access out of reach for millions of primarily Black, Brown, Indigenous and poor women, and transgender individuals—even while Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land.
While bold legislative proposals like the EACH Woman Act and Women’s Health Protection Act will require action from Congress, it is paramount that the new administration rescinds a 2010 Executive Order that reinforced support for Hyde. They must come out proudly in support of reproductive freedom and access that extends to all people capable of pregnancy.
With so much uncertainty swirling around the upcoming inauguration and Congressional session, we can be certain that our continued advocacy and organizing is needed to hold this new administration to account for protecting and advancing reproductive health, rights, and justice for all and continuing to engage the movements—particularly Black and Brown-led Southern efforts—that have made their time in office possible.