White House Aims at Protecting Abortion Pill Access, Harris Says

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(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden is issuing a memorandum aimed at protecting access to mifepristone, a drug used in medication abortion, Vice President Kamala Harris said Sunday.

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Harris spoke in Florida, a likely battleground state in the 2024 presidential race, and more specifically in Tallahassee, the capital, where Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a measure banning abortion after 15 weeks. DeSantis is considered a leading candidate for the Republican nomination — and Biden has said he intends to seek a second term.

Her speech made clear that Democrats intend to make abortion access a key issue in the coming race, just as the party’s base was galvanized by it in 2022 midterm elections.

Harris didn’t mention DeSantis by name but said: “Last year, so-called leaders at the statehouse here in Tallahassee passed a radical abortion ban with no exceptions, even for the survivors of crimes like rape and child molestation and human trafficking.”

“Members of our cabinet and our administration are now directed, as of the president’s order, to identify barriers to access to prescription medication, and to recommend actions to make sure that doctors can legally prescribe, that pharmacies can dispense, and that women can secure safe and effective medication,” she said.

Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision on the constitutional right to an abortion. The landmark ruling was overturned by the court last year.

Biden’s presidential memorandum directs three of his cabinet members — at Health and Human Services, the Justice Department and Homeland Security — to consider new guidance to support pharmacies and patients nationwide get access to mifepristone.

The drug, together with another medication called misoprostol, can be used to end a pregnancy within 70 days of a person’s last menstrual cycle, before the end of the first trimester, according to the FDA.

The FDA has approved a plan for pharmacies to get certified to dispense mifepristone. CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. have said they plan to do so. A conservative legal group, Alliance Defending Freedom, filed suit to stop the distribution of the drug. That case sits before a Trump-appointed Texas judge.

Biden’s action Sunday follows an executive order he signed in July aimed at protecting access to medication abortion and reproductive health services.

Both Biden and Harris have underscored that they think the best solution is for Congress to make the right to abortion a federal law. Despite Biden’s call before the 2022 midterm elections for voters to elect more members of Congress who support protecting abortion access, there isn’t enough support to restore a national right to abortion.

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