Remarks by President Biden and Vice President Harris at the First Meeting of the Interagency Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access
Indian Treaty Room
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
2:31 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Vice President Harris, for leading today’s meeting. And thanks to you, all of you, especially Health and Human Services Secretary Becerra and Director of the Gender Policy Council Jen Klein for co-chairing this task force, and Attorney General Garland, Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas, and Veterans Affairs Secretary McDonough for your work on this task force to protect access to a woman’s right to choose reproductive healthcare in the wake of the Supreme Court’s extreme decision on wiping out a 50-year constitutional precedent of Roe v. Wade.
You know, I created this task force by executive order last month and — to ensure that every part of the federal government does its part at this critical moment where women’s health and lives are on the line amidst chaos and uncertainty unleashed by this decision.
Emergency medical care being denied to women experiencing miscarriages. Doctors uncertain about what they can do to provide for their patients. Pharmacists unsure whether they can fill prescriptions that they’ve always filled before. A tragic cases of rape survivors, including a 10-year-old girl forced to travel to another state for care.
You know, and wiping out the right to choose on — whether you have incest, abortion — I mean, excuse me, incest or having a rape or — I mean, it just — this is just extreme. You know, even the life of the mother is in question in some case — in some states.
Republicans in Congress and their extreme MAGA ideology are determined to go even further, talking about nationwide bans that would outlaw abortion in every state, under every circumstance, going after the broader right to privacy as well.
But as I’ve said before, this fight is not over. And we saw that last night in Kansas.
In the opinion of people on — in the opinion of the Dobbs case, the extreme majority of the Supreme Court wrote, “women…” — this is a quote from that case — “women are not without electoral or political power.” Unquote.
The Court practically dared the women in this country to go to the ballot box and restore the right to choose that the Court had just ripped away after 50 years
And as I said last night — last month, I don’t think the Court has — has any notion, for that matter — or the Republican Party, for that matter — to decide that -– how -– how far to press their extreme agenda and how women are going to respond. They don’t have a clue about the power of American women.
Last night in Congress — in Kansas, they found out. Women and men did exercise their electoral and political power. With a record turnout, voters of Kansas defeated a ballot initiative to remove the right to choose an abortion from the Kansas constitution. It was in the Kansas constitution. They’re trying to strike it and eliminate it from the Kansas constitution.
In a decisive vote, in a decisive victory, voters made it clear that politicians should not interfere with the fundamental rights of women.
And the voters of Kansas sent a powerful signal that this fall, the American people will vote to preserve and protect their right and refuse to let them be ripped away by politicians. And my administration has their back.
You know, today, I’m signing a second executive order — I’m about to sign — that responds to the healthcare crisis that has unfolded since the Supreme Court overturned Roe and that women are facing all across America.
The healthcare crisis is –- you know, it’s just -– it’s hard for me to even under- — understand how they think this. The healthcare crisis is women can’t get -– can’t choose, can’t get an abortion even in a case of incest, even in the case of rape.
But it goes beyond that. There are a lot of women who take prescriptions prescribed by their doctors and have been taking for some time for other conditions — for arthritis, for epilepsy, for Crohn’s disease. And in many cases, these prescriptions are not being filled.
Say a 25-year-old woman — her doctor prescribes medication for her epilepsy. She’s been doing it for a while. She goes to the pharmacy. The pharmacist won’t fill the prescription because the same medicine could also cause a miscarriage. So if she’s not getting the medicine she needs for her epilepsy whether she’s pregnant or not. A pharmacy has no right to do that.
Just yesterday in Idaho, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit to make sure that pregnant women facing serious threats to their health can get the medical care they need in Medicare-funded emergency rooms.
Under federal law, no woman — whether pregnant or not, no matter where she lives — should be turned away or denied necessary treatment during a medical crisis.
The Justice Department stepped in to make sure that this extreme state law criminalizing abortion does not put women’s health and lives at risk in these situations.
You know, this executive order also helps women travel out of state for medical care. Secretary Becerra is going to work with states through the Medicaid to allow them to provide reproductive healthcare for women who live in states where — where abortions are being banned in that state.
The executive order makes sure healthcare providers comply with federal law so women don’t face delays or denials of medically necessary care.
And this executive order advances research and data collection to evaluate the impact that this reproductive health crisis is having on — on maternal health and other health conditions and outcomes.
This executive order builds on the first one I signed last month that created this task force in the first place and that also will help safeguard access to healthcare, including the right to choose and contraception. It promotes safety and security of clinics, patients, and providers. It protects patients’ privacy and access to accurate information.
Let me close with this: Beyond the actions you’re taking, I know that, along with Kamala, many of you have been traveling the country listening to women, healthcare providers, legal experts, state and local officials and legislators, and others so that we are doing all we can in my administration to protect the rights of — health and safety of the people in this country. You know, their perspectives are going to inform the work of this task force and the recommendations you make to me.
I believe Roe got it right, and it has been the law for close to 50 years. And I commit to the American people that we’re doing everything in our power to safeguard access to healthcare, including the right to choose that women had under Roe v. Wade, which was ripped away by this extreme court.
But ultimately, Congress must codify the protections of Roe as federal law. And if Congress fails to act, the people of this country need to elect senators and representatives who will restore Roe and will protect the right to privacy, freedom, and equality.
I’ll stop there and turn this over to the Vice President. There’s so much more to say, but I’m anxious to hear from all of you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Do I sign this order now? I’m going to sign this executive order right now, okay?
(The President signs the executive order.)
Okay, folks, we got a lot of work to do. But, Madam Vice President, I’m sure you can get it done sitting there with all those folks.
I wish I were with you in person, quite frankly. But I’m getting there.
You’re on mute. I can’t hear you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We feel your presence, Mr. President. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: (Laughs.) Well, I wish I were —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, President Joe Biden has set the tone for our administration from the very beginning — from the time that an opinion was leaked, to the time the Dobbs decision came down.
And our President has been a leader in saying that the women of America should be protected; their right to make decisions about their own bodies should be a matter that we all defend, understanding that the government should not be in the business of making those decisions for the women of America.
Our administration has been very clear, as is clear by the leaders who are at this table, that we trust the judgment of the women of America to make decisions based on what they know is in their best interests. We trust the women of America to make those decisions, if she chooses, in consultation with her faith leader, with her physician, with her loved one. But we understand fully the government should not be making that decision for her.
And it is with that spirit that the President has convened this task force of these leaders to ensure that we have a whole-of-government approach to our work, understanding that every day in America — especially with these extremist so-called “leaders” in states passing these laws, some of which will criminalize healthcare providers and punish women — that we do everything in our power and our ability, based on our role, to ensure that we protect the women of America around some of the most intimate decisions that any human being can make.
So, it is with that spirit and purpose that we convene and we meet. We will be engaged in an in-depth discussion about the role of the various agencies and the Cabinet members and their roles of leadership around this important issue.
As the President said, the people of Kansas spoke yesterday, and they spoke loud and clear. They said this is not a partisan issue. The women of America should not be the subject of partisan debate or perspective.
The people of Kansas spoke and said this is a matter of defense of basic principles of liberty and freedom in America. And they spoke loudly in saying that they trust women to make decisions about their own lives and their bodies. And they said government should not be mandating those decisions for the women of America.
So, today, we are prepared to do the work that is necessary. We will discuss what we have done so far as an administration, and we will discuss what we are prepared to do going forward.
I have been traveling the country in recent weeks, talking with, in particular, community-based leaders, healthcare providers, state legislatures and legislators. I’ve convened faith-based leaders. We have convened disability rights activists, people from various sectors of our country to talk about this issue.
And I will tell you: People are scared. When they look at these laws that are being passed and they understand what it means for themselves or someone they love, they are concerned. They are confused.
When you look at a map — which I have here somewhere — in terms of what this means in our country — and I don’t have the map at the moment; my staff will tell me where that map is at the moment. (Laughs.) But what we know is that there is a need for clarity around the rights of individuals and states in this moment.
And so, General Merrick Garland will talk about what the Department of Justice is prepared to do. We know that there are concerns about the kind of support that is available in terms of federal resources to the various states that are protecting the rights of women and what our administration can do to support that.
We will be discussing what we need to do to address the profound misinformation and disinformation that is out there and can only thrive in an environment where there is confusion about what is the right approach and what is the law.
So these are some of the topics that we will be discussing. But, again, all convened with an understanding and an appreciation for the fact that this, as the President has said, represents a healthcare crisis in America where women, every day in our country, whoever they voted for in any election, understand what is at stake for themselves, their family, and their future.
And so with that, I thank all of the leaders who are here. I look forward to our discussion. And because I promised that I have a map, I’m going to now show you that map. (Holds up map of the United States of America.) And you don’t need to necessarily be able to read the words on the map, but you can see the color-coding, to understand this map represents our current assessment of the various laws that exist right now in these United States of America — different approaches in different states to this issue, which some might argue has been, by design, to intentionally confuse people about their rights.
But what, in fact, it has done without any question is made clear that the President’s leadership, the leadership of the President’s Cabinet and all of us at this table is critically necessary at this moment.
So, with that, I thank everyone for being here. And — and I will now turn it over to our — the head of our Gender Policy Council, Jen Klein. Thank you.
2:46 P.M. EDT