President Biden on Wednesday will sign an executive order directing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to consider using Medicaid to pay for expenses for those who cross state lines to seek abortions.
The executive order will direct HHS “to consider action to advance access to reproductive healthcare services, including through Medicaid for patients who travel out of state for reproductive healthcare services,” according to a White House fact sheet released on Wednesday.
The executive order will be the second that Biden has signed since the conservative Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion ruling, in June. Biden has been under pressure to take more aggressive actions to support abortion access as various states move to restrict the procedure following the ruling.
A senior Biden administration official told reporters that the action would require states where abortion is legal to apply for Section 1115 Medicaid waivers to provide services for women crossing state lines for abortions.
The White House did not specify what costs Medicaid could potentially cover. Another senior administration official told The Hill that HHS would soon provide more information on what a waiver could look like, saying it would help “cover certain costs” and largely target low-income women who receive Medicaid.
Medicaid funds could not be used to pay for abortions themselves because the Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for most abortions.
Biden will sign the new order Wednesday afternoon at the first meeting of a reproductive healthcare access interagency task force set up by his previous executive order. Vice President Harris, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Attorney General Merrick Garland and other administration officials are scheduled to attend.
Biden is supposed to tune into the meeting virtually, as he is still isolating following a rebound infection of COVID-19.
The latest order will also instruct HHS to consider providing technical assistance and other actions to make sure healthcare providers comply with non-discrimination laws in the wake of the ruling striking down Roe, according to the White House fact sheet.
Additionally, the order directs HHS to improve federal research and data collection in order to evaluate the impact that the striking down of Roe is having on maternal health, the fact sheet said.
The executive order is likely to be well-received by those asking the administration to take more forceful action on abortion access.
However, the Biden administration has thus far resisted calls from some Democrats to declare a public health emergency exists with respect to abortion access.
The first senior administration official said that the White House continues to review options to protect access to abortion services, but suggested that such a declaration would not yield much in the way of additional resources or legal authority.
A number of states have moved to enact restrictions on abortion following the ruling striking down Roe. On Tuesday, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit challenging Idaho’s six-week abortion ban in its first legal action since the Supreme Court’s ruling.
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