Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Democratic Senators and Advocates Push Biden to Make Reproductive Justice a Priority

By Fallon Parker (Mar. 23, 2021)

In President Biden’s first two months in office, his team has fulfilled a number of campaign promises meant to make broad strides for reproductive rights and undo many of President Trump’s harmful anti-choice policies. Reproductive justice advocates and a group of Democratic Senators, however, are pushing Biden to go beyond merely repealing Trump-era policies by framing reproductive justice as a broader, more holistic policy through the creation of a new office.

Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand are leading the effort to create an Office of Sexual and Reproductive Health. On Tuesday, February 23, the group of Democratic senators sent a letter pushing President Biden to create the office in order to “more holistically address the ‘human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy.'” The office would be independent of other agencies like Health and Human Services, and would reside within the Domestic Policy Council. The separation is intentional, says the letter, because “securing true reproductive justice is beyond the scope of any one existing executive department,” and an independent department will allow the office to expand beyond traditional reproductive rights. The office intends to focus on a broad range of reproductive justice issues, including health care, economic inequality, discrimination based on race, gender identity, and sexual orientation, food security, housing stability, environmental justice, immigrants’ rights, and disability rights, issues that are central to reproductive justice, but beyond the scope of existing reproductive rights offices.

An Office of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Wellbeing would mark a significant step for President Biden in his pledge to support reproductive rights. Biden has already taken broad actions to undo some of the harmful policies instituted by former President Trump, but reproductive justice organizations would like to see more.

In his first few months in office Biden rolled back the “global gag rule,” which prevented organizations abroad receiving U.S. aid from performing or discussing abortions. The administration also began the process to roll back the Title X gag order precluding domestic organizations from referring clients for abortions under the Trump administration.

Significantly, the American Rescue Plan, which Biden signed into law, provides for a child tax credit for families, lower Affordable Care Act premiums, and extended postpartum Medicaid coverage for people giving birth from 60 days to 12 months. Advocates, senators, and the Biden administration see these policies as wins for reproductive justice.

Reproductive rights advocates, however, are pushing the Biden administration to go beyond merely repealing Trump-era anti-abortion policies. On Wednesday, March 18, Planned Parenthood and 55 other reproductive rights, health, and justice groups sent a letter to Biden urging him to increase patient access to medication abortion by removing the federal restriction that requires mifepristone, one of two medications used in medication abortions, to be picked up directly from a doctor, hospital, or health center, rather than from a pharmacy or by mail.

Additionally, international human rights and reproductive justice organizations have called on Biden to repeal the Helms Amendment, which restricts funds from the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act from being used for abortions.

Senators Warren, Booker, and Gillibrand expressed their appreciation for Biden’s initial early executive actions on reproductive rights, but echoed activists’ desire for Biden to continue to build on this work and “institutionalize a reproductive justice policy framework” through this new office. The office would (1) develop a federal strategy for promoting equitable sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing through a human rights, gender and racial equity lens, and (2) better coordinate the actions of the many departments and agencies whose actions in both domestic and foreign policy contexts impact sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing. 


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