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White House to meet with state, local leaders on abortion protections

The Biden administration will meet with state and local officials on Friday about protecting and expanding access to abortion, as the White House marks an official abortion “day of action” on Women’s Equality Day.

In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is sending a letter to governors inviting them to design and apply for Medicaid waivers to provide increased access to care for women traveling from a state that has restricted or prohibited abortion.

The developments do not represent any new policy announcements, however. The letter builds off an executive order President Biden signed earlier this month, when he directed HHS to find a way to use Medicaid to pay the expenses for those who cross state lines to seek abortions.

The White House has been under pressure from abortion rights advocates to act more aggressively to protect abortion rights in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. 

President Biden will be meeting with leaders including Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D); Durham, N.C., Mayor Elaine M. O’Neal (D);  Delaware chief deputy attorney general Alexander S. Mackler; and Lina Hidalgo, the county judge of Harris County, Texas.

“Often these leaders are on the front lines of protecting reproductive rights, helping their communities navigate the growing challenges surrounding access to reproductive health care, including abortion,” a senior administration official told reporters on Thursday. “We’re really looking forward to engaging them in a conversation on how states can protect access to care and how we can support their efforts at the federal level.”

Aside from Medicaid funding, the letter to governors will reinforce the administration’s recent guidance making clear that medical providers are required to perform an abortion if there is a medical emergency. 

The letter will “underscore to our governors that state antiabortion laws don’t negate providers’ responsibilities in these states to comply with federal laws that protect access to emergency health care,” a senior administration official said. 

The White House last month updated guidance about the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), a law that the administration said requires providers to offer medically stabilizing treatment in an emergency, even if that care is an abortion. 

A federal judge in Texas on Tuesday night blocked the guidance, but on Wednesday a federal judge in Idaho ruled in favor of the administration, which had sued over the state’s “trigger” law that criminalizes all abortion, even if it’s done to protect a woman’s health. The Justice Department argued Idaho’s law was a violation of EMTALA, and state law did not supersede federal law.

The ongoing legal battles come as a patchwork of state abortion laws have emerged as a result of the Supreme Court’s toppling of Roe, which for nearly a half-century recognized a constitutional right to abortion up to the point of fetal viability.

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