Joe Biden signs abortion order, says Republicans clueless about women’s power

President Joe Biden said on Wednesday the Supreme Court and Republicans are clueless about the power of American women as he signed a second executive order aimed at protecting abortion rights.
The order asks the federal health department to consider allowing Medicaid funds to be used to help facilitate out-of-state travel for abortions.
Like Mr Biden’s first order signed in July, it is meant to address the recent Supreme Court decision to end the nationwide constitutional right to abortion.

It is expected to have limited impact as Republicans in US states push a wave of laws restricting abortion, access to medication and funding for such services.

‘Last night in Kansas they found out’

The president’s actions come a day after Kansas voters rejected one such effort to remove abortion protections from the state’s constitution.

The vote was a resounding win for the abortion rights movement in the first statewide electoral test since the Supreme Court ruling.

President Joe Biden, left, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough attend the first meeting of the interagency Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access virtually in Washington on Wednesday, 3 August 2022. Source: AAP / AP

“I don’t think the court has any notion for that matter or the Republican party for that matter…how women are going to respond. They don’t have a clue about the power of American women,” Mr Biden said.

“Last night in Kansas they found out.”
He called the Kansas result a “decisive victory” and said voters in the state sent a “powerful signal” that makes clear politicians should not interfere with the fundamental rights of women.

“This fight is not over and we saw that last night in Kansas,” Mr Biden said.

The Supreme Court “practically dared women in this country go to the ballot box and restore the right to choose,” that it had just stripped away, Mr Biden said.

Impact of Roe v Wade ruling

Last month, Biden said the Supreme Court, which is weighted 6-3 with conservative judges, was “out of control” after ruling in June to overturn Roe v Wade, ending a half-century of protections for women’s reproductive rights.

His first order in early July directed the federal government’s health department to expand access to medication abortion and ensure that women who travel for abortions are protected.
The latest action builds on those measures. But like the first one, it remains vague about how those goals can be achieved.
It asks the Health and Human Services Department to consider using funds, including Medicaid, the federal and state-funded insurance program it oversees, to support low-income women travelling out-of-state for abortion services, a senior administration official said.

It calls on Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to consider inviting states to apply for Medicaid waivers when treating patients who cross state lines for reproductive health services, the official said, without giving additional details.

What does the order entail?

The Hyde Amendment, a Congressional measure, states that Medicaid will not pay for an abortion unless the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, making the effectiveness of the order uncertain.

It also directs the department to ensure health-care providers comply with federal non-discrimination laws when offering such services and orders it to collect data to measure the impact of the ruling on maternal health, the official added.
The president signed the order at the first meeting of the interagency task force on reproductive healthcare access, which was formed in July.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who has travelled to six different states to convene state legislators about protecting reproductive health care in recent weeks, joined Mr Biden for the meeting and called the abortion issue a “healthcare crisis in America.”

Senate Democrats rejected Mr Biden’s call to lift the chamber’s “filibuster” rule requiring 60 of the 100 senators to agree on most legislation to allow them to pass a law establishing a national right to abortion.

Kansas abortion vote rocks US midterms outlook

The surprise vote in Republican-heavy Kansas to repudiate a push for abortion bans fired shockwaves through the US political landscape ahead of November’s midterm elections, with Mr Biden’s Democrats now seeing a glimmer of hope that they may avoid their predicted drubbing.

Ever since the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to terminate a pregnancy in June, US conservatives have been nervously asking whether their triumphant push to severely restrict access to the procedure — a decades-long dream — has gone too far in the run-up to the midterms.
In Kansas, they got an answer.

The state is a Republican stronghold, but in Tuesday’s referendum, a bid to remove abortion rights from the Kansas constitution was rejected by 59 to 41 per cent, with an unusually heavy turnout.

Given this was the first time Americans had an opportunity to vote on the issue since the conservative-dominated Supreme Court ruled to overturn the half-century-old Roe v Wade decision enshrining abortion rights, Democrats are celebrating the result — and say a major backlash is only beginning.

Clear warning

Planned Parenthood, which lobbies for abortion access, called the Kansas vote “a clear warning to anti-abortion politicians.”

The organisation’s president, Alexis McGill Johnson, also called on voters to keep up the momentum into the midterms.

“We have the opportunity to protect abortion access at the ballot box in November. We know that Kansas will not be our last fight or our last victory.”

Trump card

The November midterms, which will decide which party controls Congress for the last two years of Mr Biden’s first term, are shaping up as rough for Democrats who even now only control the legislature by a few votes.

Blamed by voters for soaring inflation — at a four-decade high — and widespread pessimism in the messy aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, Democrats are forecast to lose at least the House of Representatives and maybe the Senate.
This would likely make Mr Biden a lame duck, turning Washington into an even uglier political battlefield than it is today.
And abortion is not the only reason the midterms campaign will bring ideological tensions to a boil.

Donald Trump is pushing hardline right-wing candidates to boost his brand and possibly set the stage for his own attempted White House comeback in 2024.