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Biden to sign executive order expanding access to birth control

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President Joe Biden signs an executive order in support of Joining Forces, the initiative to support military and veteran families, caregivers, and survivors on June 9, 2023 at Fort Liberty, North Carolina.

Eros Hoagland | Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Friday will sign a wide-ranging executive order aimed at protecting and increasing access to contraception, his administration’s latest attempt to shore up reproductive rights as abortion restrictions rise in many states. 

The White House announced the order one day shy of the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which established the constitutional right to abortion in the U.S. in 1973.

Justice Clarence Thomas suggested in a concurring opinion that the nation’s highest court should revisit similar cases, including those guaranteeing access to contraception. 

“Contraception is an essential component of reproductive health care that has only become more important in the wake of [the Supreme Court decision] and the ensuing crisis in women’s access to health care,” the White House said in a press release. 

The president’s executive order directs the secretaries of the Treasury, Labor Department and the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure private health insurers cover all contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration – a requirement under the Affordable Care Act. 

That 2010 health law, also known as Obamacare, requires most insurance plans to cover at least one type of contraceptive per category without a copay. There are 18 contraceptive methods approved by the FDA. 

Biden’s order also:

  • Directs those departments to consider new ways to broaden access to affordable over-the-counter birth control medications, such as Plan B emergency contraception. That could include convening pharmacies, employers and insurers to discuss how to do so, according to the White House. 
  • Directs HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to strengthen coverage of contraceptives for Medicare beneficiaries, particularly women of reproductive age with disabilities. 
  • Instructs the Veterans Affairs and the Office of Personnel Management to consider actions that would shore up birth control access for veterans and federal employees, among other provisions.

The president’s order does not suggest a timeline for shoring up that access and does not direct federal departments to consider new requirements to codify access to birth control. 

Contraception is widely used in the U.S. Approximately 65% of women ages 15 to 49 used birth control from 2017 to 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

The most common contraceptive methods used during that time period were female sterilization, oral contraceptive pills and condoms, the CDC said. 

Two Democratic lawmakers this month re-launched legislation to codify contraception access.

The executive order comes as the battle over abortion rights further polarizes in the U.S. That includes a legal fight over mifepristone, one of the two pills involved in a medication abortion.

A group of anti-abortion doctors sued the FDA last November to pull mifepristone from the U.S. market entirely.

U.S. Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in the Northern District of Texas ruled in the doctors’ favor in April and suspended the FDA approval. The Supreme Court intervened in the case and preserved access to mifepristone as the litigation plays out.

More than a dozen states have also implemented abortion restrictions since the Roe V. Wade decision last year, with some laws criminalizing the procedure as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

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