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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Biden and Harris announce abortion protections on 51st anniversary of Roe

Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden in the Rose Garden during National Small Business Week, at the White House in Washington, May 1, 2023. In events this week, the president and vice president are arguing that abortion access is crucial to personal freedoms, and warn of what is at stake if Donald Trump is re-elected. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

By Katie Rogers

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kam ala Harris on Monday announced new steps to support access to abortion, highlighting an issue that has galvanized voters in the year since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.

Harris traveled to Wisconsin on Monday morning as she began a national tour focused on preserving access to reproductive health care, as Biden was to bring together a task force on reproductive health care in Washington.

Both events were designed to call attention to the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion, and to announce new steps that Biden’s administration has taken to help Americans get contraceptives and abortions under an emergency care law.

“Even as Americans — from Ohio to Kentucky to Michigan to Kansas to California — have resoundingly rejected attempts to limit reproductive freedom, Republican elected officials continue to push for a national ban and devastating new restrictions across the country,” Biden said in a statement. “On this day and every day, Vice President Harris and I are fighting to protect women’s reproductive freedom.”

In Washington, the Department of Health and Human Services will issue guidance for patients experiencing pregnancy-related emergencies to better understand their rights to care under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, known as EMTALA.

The law requires hospital emergency rooms to provide medically necessary care, including abortions, in urgent circumstances. The department will also provide “training materials for health care providers and establish a dedicated team of experts” to support hospitals around the country, according to a fact sheet distributed by the administration.

Those efforts may add to the legal challenges surrounding the administration’s efforts to bolster access to abortion. The administration is already in the middle of legal battles with Texas and Idaho over whether the law provides for the procedure. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Idaho case.

Harris, who has become the administration’s most vocal defender of abortion rights, chose Wisconsin as the backdrop for the first in a series of abortion rights events her office has planned around the country through the spring. Kirsten Allen, the vice president’s press secretary, said that Harris’ office had planned several more stops, over the next two to three months, in “states that have enshrined protections, restricted access and states that continue to threaten access, causing chaos and confusion.”

Wisconsin is crucial to Biden’s reelection prospects — he won there by about 20,600 votes in 2020 — and recent polling suggests a close race in 2024. It was also a target of former President Donald Trump’s efforts to spread falsehoods about illegal voting in 2020.

But Democrats hope that a series of victories for abortion rights advocates in Wisconsin could signal a wider trend ahead of the general election. In April, Wisconsin voters elected a liberal candidate to the state’s Supreme Court by an 11-point margin. In September, Planned Parenthood began providing abortions again after a judge ruled that an 1849 state restriction against them — which had been invalidated by Roe until it fell — was not enforceable.

Back in Washington, the administration’s task force on reproductive rights announced on Monday what officials said were new steps to help Americans get contraceptives, including new guidance meant to clarify standards to insurers of federal employees. It also released a letter, issued by Xavier Becerra, the health and human services secretary, that will inform private insurers of their obligation to provide contraceptives to those they serve.

The president and vice president plan to continue trying to draw a contrast between Republican-led efforts to restrict abortion and contraception and the Biden administration’s efforts to frame the issue as one rooted in protecting personal freedoms.

On Tuesday — the day of the New Hampshire primary — Harris will join Biden at a rally for abortion rights in Virginia, where Democrats recently took control of the legislature and have proposed to enshrine abortion protections in the state constitution. Jill Biden, the first lady, and Doug Emhoff, Harris’ husband, are also scheduled to attend.

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