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Biden signs executive order to protect abortion access

U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last month

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(White House screenshot)

President Biden on Friday signed an executive order protecting access to reproductive health care services.

The president is under pressure from Democrats to step-up actions in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Biden made it clear that Congress needs to codify reproductive healthcare choices, however he also stated that he would continue to take actions on his own to to defend reproductive rights and protect access to safe and legal abortion.

Flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in the Roosevelt Room, the president spoke about the order and the circumstances leading to the need for the executive order.

Biden referring to the Supreme Court ruling as “the wrong headed decision,” castigated the court for “playing fast and loose with the facts,” using the argument that abortion wasn’t rooted in historical precedent.

“The Supreme Court in Dobbs made a terrible, extreme and I think totally wrong-headed decision to overturn Roe v. Wade … This was not a decision driven by the Constitution […or] by history,” he said.

Biden then criticized the majority for reading the Constitution as frozen in the mindset of the 1800s, when women didn’t even have the right to vote.

Quoting the justice in dissent he then noted that the court decision was use of raw political power, saying that the court had finally a conservative majority to walk back the decision.

Biden urged that voters push out the Republicans in the upcoming mid-term elections labeling the Republicans as “extremist.” He then angrily cited the recent example of the 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio who was forced to travel to neighboring Indiana to have an abortion.

“Ten years old! … A 10 year old girl should be forced to give birth to a rapist’s child? What could be more extreme,” Biden said.

He warned that extremist Republicans even want to impose a national ban on abortion. As long as he’s president such a bill would be vetoed, he said.

The president also specified the need to have the Federal Trade Commission to regulate data brokers and others to enforce privacy for people using apps that expose them to the transfer and sales of sensitive health-related data.

Flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in the Roosevelt Room, the president spoke about the order and the circumstances leading to the need for the Executive Order.
(Screenshot/YouTube White House Channel)

Biden then outlined that the Executive Order included:

  • Safeguarding access to reproductive health care services, including abortion and contraception;
     
  • Protecting the privacy of patients and their access to accurate information;
     
  • Promoting the safety and security of patients, providers, and clinics; and
     
  • Coordinating the implementation of Federal efforts to protect reproductive rights and access to health care.

The White House released the language of the executive order prior to Biden signing it:

The president has directed the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take the following actions and submit a report to him within 30 days on efforts to:

  • Protect Access to Medication Abortion. HHS will take additional action to protect and expand access to abortion care, including access to medication that the FDA approved as safe and effective over 20 years ago. These actions will build on the steps the secretary of HHS has already taken at the president’s direction following the decision to ensure that medication abortion is as widely accessible as possible.
     
  • Ensure Emergency Medical Care. HHS will take steps to ensure all patients – including pregnant women and those experiencing pregnancy loss – have access to the full rights and protections for emergency medical care afforded under the law, including by considering updates to current guidance that clarify physician responsibilities and protections under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). 
     
  • Protect Access to Contraception. HHS will take additional actions to expand access to the full range of reproductive health services, including family planning services and providers, such as access to emergency contraception and long-acting reversible contraception like intrauterine devices (IUDs). In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the Affordable Care Act guarantees coverage of women’s preventive services, including free birth control and contraceptive counseling, for individuals and covered dependents. The secretary of HHS has already directed the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to take every legally available step to ensure patient access to family planning care and to protect family planning providers.
     
  • Launch Outreach and Public Education Efforts.  HHS will increase outreach and public education efforts regarding access to reproductive health care services — including abortion — to ensure that Americans have access to reliable and accurate information about their rights and access to care.
     
  • Convene Volunteer Lawyers. The attorney general and the White House counsel will convene private pro bono attorneys, bar associations, and public interest organizations to encourage robust legal representation of patients, providers, and third parties lawfully seeking or offering reproductive health care services throughout the country. Such representation could include protecting the right to travel out of state to seek medical care. Immediately following the Supreme Court decision, the president announced his administration’s position that Americans must remain free to travel safely to another state to seek the care they need, as the attorney general made clear in his statement, and his commitment to fighting any attack by a state or local official who attempts to interfere with women exercising this right.

PROTECTING PATIENT PRIVACY AND ACCESS TO ACCURATE INFORMATION

The president’s executive order takes additional steps to protect patient privacy, including by addressing the transfer and sales of sensitive health-related data, combatting digital surveillance related to reproductive health care services, and protecting people seeking reproductive health care from inaccurate information, fraudulent schemes, or deceptive practices. The executive order will:

  • Protect Consumers from Privacy Violations and Fraudulent and Deceptive Practices. The president has asked the chair of the Federal Trade Commission to consider taking steps to protect consumers’ privacy when seeking information about and provision of reproductive health care services. The president also has directed the secretary of HHS, in consultation with the attorney general and chair of the FTC, to consider options to address deceptive or fraudulent practices, including online, and protect access to accurate information.
  • Protect Sensitive Health Information. HHS will consider additional actions, including under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), to better protect sensitive information related to reproductive health care. The secretary of HHS has already directed the HHS Office for Civil Rights to take initial steps to ensure patient privacy and nondiscrimination of patients, as well as providers who provide reproductive health care, including by:
     
    • Issuing new guidance to address how the HIPAA Privacy Rule protects the privacy of individuals’ protected health information, including information related to reproductive health care. The guidance helps ensure doctors and other medical providers and health plans know that, with limited exceptions, they are not required – and in many cases, are not permitted – to disclose patients’ private information, including to law enforcement. 
       
    • Issuing a how-to guide for consumers on steps they can take to make sure they’re protecting their personal data on mobile apps.

PROMOTING SAFETY AND SECURITY

The executive order addresses the heightened risk related to seeking and providing reproductive health care and will:

  • Protect Patients, Providers and Clinics.  The administration will ensure the safety of patients, providers, and third parties, and to protect the security of other entities that are providing, dispensing, or delivering reproductive health care services. This charge includes efforts to protect mobile clinics, which have been deployed to borders to offer care for out-of-state patients. 

COORDINATING IMPLEMENTATION EFFORTS

To ensure the federal government takes a swift and coordinated approach to addressing reproductive rights and protecting access to reproductive health care, the president’s executive order will:

  • Establish an Interagency Task Force. The president has directed HHS and the White House Gender Policy Council to establish and lead an interagency Task Force on Reproductive Health Care Access, responsible for coordinating federal interagency policymaking and program development. This task force will also include the attorney general. In addition, the attorney general will provide technical assistance to states affording legal protection to out-of-state patients as well as providers who offer legal reproductive health care. 

EXECUTIVE ORDER BUILDS ON ADMINISTRATION’S ACTIONS TO PROTECT ACCESS TO REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH CARE

In addition to the actions announced today, the Biden-Harris administration has taken the following steps to protect access to reproductive health care and defend reproductive rights in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs. On the day of the decision, the president strongly denounced the decision as an affront to women’s fundamental rights and the right to choose In addition to action mentioned above, the Biden-Harris administration is:

  • Supporting Providers and Clinics. The secretary of HHS directed all HHS agencies to ensure that all HHS-funded providers and clinics have appropriate training and resources to handle family planning needs, and announced nearly $3 million in new funding to bolster training and technical assistance for the nationwide network of Title X family planning providers.
     
  • Promoting Access to Accurate Information. On the day of the Supreme Court’s decision, HHS launched ReproductiveRights.gov, which provides timely and accurate information about reproductive rights and access to reproductive health care. This includes know-your-rights information for patients and providers and promoting awareness of and access to family planning services, as well as guidance for how to file a patient privacy or nondiscrimination complaint with its Office for Civil Rights. 
     
  • Providing Leave for Federal Workers Traveling for Medical Care. The Office of Personnel Management issued guidance affirming that paid sick leave can be taken to cover absences for travel to obtain reproductive health care.
     
  • Protecting Access to Reproductive Health Care Services for Service members, DoD Civilians, and Military Families. The Department of Defense issued a memo to the Force, DoD civilians and military families on ensuring access to essential women’s health care services. The memo reiterates that the department will continue to provide seamless access to reproductive healthcare for military and civilian patients, as permitted by federal law. Military providers will continue to fulfill their duty to care for service members, military dependents and civilian personnel who require pregnancy termination in the cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother.

 

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The White House

Biden hosts Kenyan president, unclear whether anti-LGBTQ bill raised

Jake Sullivan reiterated administration’s opposition to Family Protection Bill

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Kenyan President William Ruto speaks at joint press conference with President Joe Biden at the White House on May 23, 2024.

The Biden-Harris administration has not publicly said whether it raised LGBTQ rights with Kenyan President William Ruto during his visit to the White House.

Kenya is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Opposition MP Peter Kaluma last year introduced the Family Protection Bill. The measure, among other things, would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” and would ban Pride marches and other LGBTQ-specific events in the country. Advocates have told the Washington Blade the bill would also expel LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers who have sought refuge in Kenya.

A senior administration official on Wednesday did not directly respond to the Blade’s question about whether President Joe Biden would speak to Ruto about the Family Protection Bill — neither he, nor Ruto discussed it on Thursday during a joint press conference at the White House. The official, however, did reiterate the administration’s opposition to the bill and other laws around the world that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

A reporter on Wednesday asked National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during the daily press briefing about whether Biden would discuss with Ruto any concerns over “some authoritarian moves” in Kenya. (The International Criminal Court in 2011 charged Ruto and five others with crimes against humanity in relation to violence that surrounded Kenya’s 2007 presidential election. The ICC dismissed the case against Ruto in 2016, although the prosecutor said widespread witness tampering had taken place.)

“We’ve seen robust and vigorous democracy in Kenya in recent years,” Sullivan said. “But, of course, we will continue to express our view about the ongoing need to nurture democratic institutions across the board: an independent judiciary; a non-corrupt economy; credible, free, and fair elections.”

Sullivan added “these kinds of principles are things the president will share, but he’s not here to lecture President Ruto.”

“President Ruto, in fact, is somebody who just was in Atlanta speaking about these issues,” he said. “We will invest in Kenya’s democratic institutions, in its civil society, in all walks of Kenyan life to help make sure that the basic foundations of Kenyan democracy remain strong.”

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman in March 2023 sparked criticism when she told reporters in Kenya’s Kajiado County that “every country has to make their own decisions about LGBTQ rights.”

Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of the White House’s overall foreign policy. A State Department spokesperson in response to Whitman’s comments told the Blade that “our position on the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is clear.”

“A person’s ability to exercise their rights should never be limited based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics,” said the spokesperson. “Governments should protect and promote respect for human rights for each and every human being, without discrimination, and they should abide by their human rights obligations and commitments.”

The White House on Thursday released a “Kenya State Visit to the United States” fact sheet that broadly notes the promotion of human rights and efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Kenya.

• Promoting Human Rights: The United States and Kenya affirm their commitment to upholding the human rights of all. Together they stand with people around the world defending their rights against the forces of autocracy. Kenya and the United States commit to bilateral dialogues that reinforce commitments to human rights, as well as a series of security and human rights technical engagements with counterparts in the Kenyan military, police, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs aimed at strengthening collaboration on security sector governance, atrocity prevention, and women, peace and security in Kenya and regionally.

• Continuing the Fight against HIV/AIDS: The United States and Kenya are developing a “Sustainability Roadmap” to integrate HIV service delivery into primary health care, ensuring quality and impact are retained. With more than $7 billion in support from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) spanning two decades, Kenya has successfully responded to the HIV epidemic and strives to end HIV as a public health threat in Kenya by 2027. These efforts improve holistic health services for the 1.3 million Kenyans currently receiving antiretroviral therapy and millions more benefiting from HIV prevention programs, while allowing for greater domestic resources to be put toward the HIV response, allowing PEFPAR support to decrease over time.

Biden and Ruto on Thursday also issued a joint statement that, among other things, affirms the two countries’ “commitment to upholding the human rights of all.”

“Our partnership is anchored in democracy and driven by people,” reads the statement. “Together we share the belief that democracy requires ongoing work, and thrives when we commit to continually strengthen our democratic institutions.”

“This historic state visit is about the Kenyan and American people and their hopes for an inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous future for all,” it adds.

The White House said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Democratic National Committee Deputy National Finance Chair Claire Lucas and her partner, Judy Dlugacz, are among those who attended Thursday’s state dinner at the White House. Ruto on Friday is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department.

Ugandan officials sanctioned after Anti-Homosexuality Act signed

The U.S. has sanctioned officials in Uganda, which borders Kenya, after the country’s president in May 2023 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The White House also issued a business advisory against Uganda and removed the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows sub-Saharan countries to trade duty-free with the U.S.

Sullivan, Whitman and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo are among the officials who joined Biden and Ruto at a meeting with CEOs that took place at the White House on Wednesday. Ruto earlier this week visited Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta.

The company announced it will invest $175 million in Kenya.

Coca-Cola on its website notes it has received a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index each year since 2006. The company also highlights it has supported the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the Trevor Project, and other “LGBTQI-focused organizations and programs in our communities.”

“Coca Cola is proud of its history of supporting and including the LGBTQI community in the workplace, in its advertising and in communities throughout the world,” says Coca-Cola. “From supporting LGBTQI pride parades to running rainbow-colored billboards, Coca Cola has demonstrated its commitment to protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.”

Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell in a statement to the Blade said Ruto “is choosing to align with anti-gender extremists and is allowing queer Kenyans to be put at extreme risk.” She also criticized Biden for welcoming Ruto to the White House.

“Biden is campaigning as an LGBTQ+ champion, but he is ruling out the red carpet for someone who is explicitly siding with the extremists,” said Russell. “It’s doublespeak on the part of the White House.”

Brody Levesque, Christopher Kane, and Sam Kisika contributed to this story.

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The White House

Senate confirms Biden’s 200th judicial nominee

Diverse group includes 11 LGBTQ judges

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Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden at the White House on Jan. 5, 2023. (Screenshot via White House YouTube channel)

With the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of his 200th judicial nominee on Wednesday, President Joe Biden surpassed the number who were appointed to the federal bench by his last two predecessors at this point in their presidencies.

Among them are 11 LGBTQ judges, the same record-setting number who were nominated and confirmed under former President Barack Obama over the course of his two terms in office.

In a statement celebrating the milestone, Biden highlighted the diverse identities, backgrounds, and professional experiences of the men and women he has appointed over the past four years.

They “come from every walk of life, and collectively, they form the most diverse group of judicial appointees ever put forward by a president,” he said, noting that “64 percent are women and 62 percent are people of color.”

“Before their appointment to the bench, they worked in every field of law,” Biden said, “from labor lawyers fighting for working people to civil rights lawyers fighting to protect the right to vote.”

The president added, “Judges matter. These men and women have the power to uphold basic rights or to roll them back. They hear cases that decide whether women have the freedom to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions; whether Americans have the freedom to cast their ballots; whether workers have the freedom to unionize and make a living wage for their families; and whether children have the freedom to breathe clean air and drink clean water.”

The LGBTQ judges who were confirmed under Biden include Beth Robinson, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal court of appeals, Nicole Berner, the 4th Circuit’s first LGBTQ judge, Charlotte Sweeney, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal district court west of the Mississippi River, and Melissa DuBose, the first Black and the first LGBTQ judge to serve on a federal court in Rhode Island.

Echoing the president’s comments during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted Biden’s appointment of the U.S. Supreme Court’s first Black woman, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“We’ve confirmed more Hispanic judges circuit courts than any previous administration,” she said. “We’ve confirmed more Black women to circuit courts than all previous presidents combined.”

Jean-Pierre added that while these milestones are “great news,” there is still “much more work to be done.”

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White House acknowledges IDAHOBiT, reiterates support for global LGBTQ rights

WHO on May 17, 1990, declassified homosexuality as a mental illness

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Pride flags fly from an apartment's terrace in Warsaw, Poland, on April 11, 2024. The International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia commemorates the World Health Organization's declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Biden-Harris administration on Friday used the annual International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia to reiterate its support of LGBTQ and intersex rights around the world.

“On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, my administration stands in support and solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) people around the world as they seek to live full lives, free from violence and discrimination,” said President Joe Biden in a statement. “This is a matter of human rights, plain and simple.” 

“The United States applauds those individuals and groups worldwide working to defend the rights of LGBTQI+ people wherever they are under threat,” he added. “We are grateful for the contributions that LGBTQI+ people make every day across our nation.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Biden.

“On this day, we reflect upon the violence and discrimination lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons worldwide suffer and re-commit ourselves to opposing these acts,” said Blinken in his own statement. “This year, like every year, we state unequivocally: LGBTQI+ persons deserve recognition of their universal human rights and human dignity.” 

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder on May 17, 1990.

Blinken in his statement notes LGBTQ and intersex people around the world “continue to face insidious forms of stigma and discrimination.”

Dominica last month became the latest country to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

“Even as more countries make meaningful advancements towards full equality; LGBTQI+ persons continue to be sentenced to death for daring to live their sexual orientation or gender identity, subjected to coercive conversion ‘therapies’ and ‘normalization’ surgeries, discriminated against while receiving health services, restricted from exercising fundamental freedoms, and denied the dignity of same-sex partnership and fulfillment of family,” said Blinken. 

“As we reflect upon the injustices that LGBTQI+ persons and their allies endure, we must not forget that today is fundamentally a day of action,” he added. “On this day and every day, the United States stands with LGBTQI+ persons around the world. We will continue to advocate for the rights of LGBTQI+ persons not just because we have a moral imperative to do so, but because it helps to strengthen democracy, bolster national security, and promote global health and economic development.”

The Tonga Leitis Association is among the myriad LGBTQ and intersex rights groups around the world that acknowledged IDAHOBiT.

The Human Rights Campaign announced advocacy groups in 24 countries that include Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cambodia, Estonia, Morocco, and Peru received grants through its Global Small Grants Program. These funds, according to a press release, will allow them to “advance LGBTQ+ equality.”

“This year, the Human Rights Campaign is honored to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia by highlighting the powerful impact of the Global Small Grants Program,” sand HRC Global Advocacy Associate Director Andrea Gillespie. “IDAHOBIT is a great opportunity for reflection of both the great strides made in our movement and just how far we need to go to achieve equality for all.” 

“As the anti-rights and anti-gender movement seeks to rollback progress on LGBTQ+ rights globally, HRC is proud to stand in solidarity with our partners around the world facing new anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and policies, and redouble our commitments to the important work of HRC’s Global Alumni Network,” added Gillespie. 

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