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Biden is expected to sign an executive order to protect abortion rights

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

President Biden is expected to sign an executive order on abortion rights today. The White House says he is trying to do what he can to preserve access to abortion services after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. But it's not clear how much this executive order will actually do. White House correspondent Scott Detrow joins us now. Scott, what's in this executive order?

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Well, first, I think it's important to remind everybody what this cannot do and why Biden's options are so limited, right? He obviously cannot change the court decision. He cannot stop Republican-controlled statehouses from banning abortion. And it is clear at this point that Biden cannot get enough Democratic votes in the Senate to end the filibuster and pass national abortion rights law. So the White House has come out with a list of incremental or, frankly, sometimes vague goals of what it is going to protect, including access to FDA-approved pills and the right to travel across state lines to get abortions. One new thing that will be in this morning's announcement - the administration says it will ensure the safety of abortion providers, including in mobile clinics that are setting up next to states banning abortion.

MARTINEZ: Now, the president has been getting a lot of heat from Democrats for not doing more and not announcing these responses faster. Any sense this might address that?

DETROW: You know, probably not. What we have seen so far of today's announcement includes a lot of vague steps and a lot of questions that aren't answered. You know, here are a few examples. Today, Biden will be asking the secretary of health and human services to make sure that medication abortion is available and also to expand access to emergency contraception and IUDs and to increase public education about these things. But the order does not say how those things are going to happen or outline new resources. Instead, the secretary is supposed to submit a report within 30 days on this. And then today's order also creates a new task force on reproductive rights to coordinate policies, which again is probably not a step that screams urgency to many people.

MARTINEZ: Now, a week ago, when the president met with a group of Democratic governors, they were looking for some concrete resources to try and help with abortion care in their states. Doesn't sound like that call is being answered by today's action.

DETROW: Yeah. One of the messages from those governors was, like, we're going to help people coming across the state line as well as people in their own state, and they needed more resources to do that. There's nothing immediately apparent in today's plans that addresses that. There's also been a lot of calls for the administration to consider using federal facilities or federal lands for procedures in states where abortion is now banned. The White House has been really skeptical of that approach and does not seem willing to do that for several reasons, including real concern that that would open doctors and women up to immediate prosecution in those states.

Here's another new thing today. The administration is going to convene private pro-bono lawyers to provide help to people crossing state lines. But, you know, advocates have been saying one issue, again, is resources. Many women can't necessarily afford to travel to begin with. Advocacy groups have been asking for help with travel vouchers. That's not something in today's action.

MARTINEZ: And another way the White House has faced some criticism is over its response to the Supreme Court's decision, that it wasn't prepared right away out of the gate. How much of today's actions may be as a response to that?

DETROW: I think a lot of it. Look, there's been real criticism that - and the White House hasn't had a good answer for that. Remember, we had an unprecedented situation of knowing almost a month beforehand exactly what was going to be in the ruling. And still, the White House has given the indication many times that it's scrambling.

MARTINEZ: That's White House correspondent Scott Detrow. Scott, thanks.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.