The Biden administration’s U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a “Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access,” labeling abortion access as essential health care and attempting to “eliminate barriers” to it across government agencies. 

Announced on the 49th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion as pro-life advocates marched in Washington, D.C., HHS will also give nearly $2 million in Title X grant funding to Planned Parenthood to “protect reproductive health care and ensure access to quality family-planning services.”

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said that, “as we commemorate the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we recommit to protecting and strengthening access to reproductive health care, including the right to safe and legal abortion care that the Supreme Court has recognized for decades. Patients have the right to make decisions about their own bodies. In light of restrictive laws across the nation, HHS will evaluate the impact on patients and our communities.”

One area that the task force will work on is “implementation of activities identified in the ‘White House National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality — PDF.’” Those activities include using “all available levers to protect these rights” and working “to codify the constitutional rights recognized under Roe v. Wade for nearly half a century.” The “gender” document also states that the administration will “seek to break down discriminatory barriers that inhibit reproductive freedom,” including supporting “the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, because health care should not depend on a person’s income or zip code.” 

The Hyde Amendment has been in place for decades as a bipartisan ban on taxpayer-funded abortion. President Joe Biden reversed his prior support of the amendment on the 2020 campaign trail. 

Valerie Huber, the former U.S. special representative for global women’s health at HHS during the Trump administration, now heads the Institute for Women’s Health. She told the Register that, with its new task force, HHS is “looking for every administrative lever they can to promote abortion through programs through policies, regulations, and any other kind of creative, and I would say harmful, interpretations of long-standing federal law and definitions for health and primary care that they are reinterpreting for the purpose of derailing real women’s health gains for abortion.” 

Huber added that the Biden administration has been “very intent on women’s health issues to link domestic and global policies.” She pointed out that one of the potential actions outlined in the fact sheet about the task force was “supporting efforts to mitigate the persistent stigmatization of reproductive health care as separate and distinct from other essential primary-care services,” noting that “they are placing abortion in a category of primary care, which traditionally would be treatment of illnesses or injuries,” not “as a marginal practice that most health care providers do not provide.” 

She said this sort of language “is elevating this to more than just a policy disagreement” by “putting it in a health category” and “these are things that are being brought in now to domestic policy as they’ve never been brought before.” Labeling abortion as an “essential service” in this way means that “health care providers have no alternative but to provide those essential health care services,” and conscientious objection is viewed as discrimination. 

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