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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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Biden-Harris administration honors Argentina’s LGBTQ, intersex rights envoy

Alba Rueda among International Women of Courage Award recipients

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Alba Rueda, center, is Argentina's special envoy for LGBTQ and intersex rights. (Photo courtesy of Alba Rueda)

The Biden-Harris administration on March 8 honored Argentina’s special envoy for LGBTQ and intersex rights with an International Women of Courage Award during a White House ceremony.

A State Department press release notes Alba Rueda is one of 11 “extraordinary women from around the world who are working to build a brighter future for all.” The Biden-Harris administration honored Rueda, along with Dr. Zakira Hekmat from Afghanistan, Danièle Darlan from the Central African Republic, Doris Ríos from Costa Rica, Meaza Mohammed from Ethiopia, Hadeel Abdel Aziz from Jordan, Bakhytzhan Toregozhina from Kazakhstan, Malaysian Sen. Datuk Ras Adiba Radzi, Mongolian Brigadier Gen. Bolor Ganbold, Bianka Zalewska from Poland, Yuliia Paievska from Ukraine. The “Women and Girl Protesters of Iran” received the Madeleine Albright Honorary Group Award.

“In Argentina, Alba Rueda is a transgender woman who was kicked out of classrooms, barred for sitting for exams, refused job opportunities, subjected to violence and rejected by her family,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks during the ceremony. “But in the face of these challenges, she worked to end violence and discrimination against the LGBTQI+ community in Argentina.”

First lady Jill Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are among those who also spoke at the ceremony.

“As you’ll hear, these women are reporting on Russian atrocities in Ukraine. They’re fighting for equal opportunities for women and girls in Mongolia. They’re defending democracy in the Central African Republic. They’re protecting indigenous land in Costa Rica. They’re advocating for the rights of refugees, people with disabilities, the LGBTQI+ community,” said Blinken.

Rueda was a well-known activist before Argentina’s government last May named her the country’s first Special Representative on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

Alba Rueda, center, with Jessica Stern, the U.S. Envoy for LGBTQ and intersex rights, left, and Fabrizio Petri, right, Italy’s special envoy for LGBTQ and intersex rights, at the 2022 New York Pride parade. (Photo courtesy of Alba Rueda)
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World Bank’s U.S. executive director reaffirms ‘strong commitment’ to LGBTQ, intersex people

Adriana Kugler spoke exclusively with Washington Blade on Feb. 13

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Adriana Kugler, the U.S. executive director of the World Bank Group (Photo courtesy of the World Bank)

The U.S. executive director of the World Bank Group told the Washington Blade last month during an exclusive interview that she is committed to LGBTQ and intersex rights.

“As U.S. executive director, I certainly have a strong commitment, not only representing the U.S., but myself to advocate for inclusive development to address the needs of LGBTQI persons,” said Adriana Kugler during an interview at her D.C. office on Feb. 13.

Kugler, who was born in Colombia, has been in the position since May 2022. She is the first Latina woman named to the post.

Kugler was chair and chair-elect of the American Statistical Association’s Business and Economics Statistics Section in 2020 and 2019 respectively. She from 2019-2022 was a member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Board on Science, Technology and Economic Policy and was on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Technical Advisory Committee from 2016-2019. 

Kugler was a chief economist at the U.S. Labor Department from 2011-2013. She has also been a professor of public policy and economics at Georgetown University since 2010, although she is currently on leave.

2021 presidential memo committed U.S. to promoting LGBTQ, intersex rights abroad

Kugler noted the Biden-Harris administration “have a strong commitment to promote inclusion of LGBTQI+ individuals.”

“This has been a priority,” she said, noting a number of executive orders and memorandums the administration has issued since it took office in 2021. One of them committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of the White House’s overall foreign policy.

“That’s been definitely a driving force, understanding that multilateral engagement is really very important in terms of driving protections of LGBTQI persons around the world,” she said.

Kugler told the Blade one of her priorities has been to support the collection and dissemination of data that “can really help to drive support and drive demand for LGBTQ inclusion here at the bank.”

“That’s been one of my priorities, to support data efforts,” she said. “It has been a priority for the U.S. as well, and that has been something that I have put forward very firmly.”

Kugler last November held an “inaugural meeting with management board members and CSOs (civil society organizations) to discuss LGBTQI+ inclusion priorities.” M. V. Lee Badgett, a professor economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst who co-directs its Center for Employment Equity, at the gathering presented information that showed the economic benefits of LGBTQ and intersex inclusion.

“That, I think, is a driver that can really help us make the case, just the same way we did it back in the day to drive support for gender equality in the multilateral organizations,” said Kugler. “I really believe in that.”

Kugler added the meeting was held to “restart the conversation, to prioritize inclusion of LGBTQ people and to make sure people understand the economic case for that.”

A specific issue on which Kugler has worked is “making sure that the standards of evidence for misconduct, for cases of misconduct, are coherent with the standards of evidence that we have here in the U.S. and that we have for cases of sexual harassment, as well as for cases of sexual misconduct.”

“That’s the prepondence of the evidence standard, as opposed to the clear and convincing evidence standard that is a very high standard to meet,” said Kugler. “So we’re making sure we work towards making progress so that cases are brought forward by those who suffer from harassment and to make sure that they have a voice and have a chance to make their cases.”

Kugler said another priority “is to engage really closely with colleagues in” GLOBE, a resource group for the World Bank’s LGBTQ and intersex employees. Kugler said a key priority “is to support, especially those LGBTQ staff who work abroad, either in those situations where being LGBTQ is criminalized, or where its a very unfriendly environment, even when it’s not criminalized.”

She told the Blade that it is important to ensure the World Bank “offers protections” for LGBTQ and intersex employees in countries with anti-LGBTQ and anti-intersex rights records. Kugler also said that it is particularly important to offer same-sex spouses and partners the opportunity to access jobs through World Bank offices and local staff in places where they would not be able to work elsewhere and to train local staff on LGBTQ and intersex issues to provide a safe workplace.

An example of an LGBTQ-inclusive project the board recently approved is the World Bank International Finance Corporation’s $275 million loan to Banco Davivienda in Colombia, which provides funding for advisory services to LGBTQ and intersex people and for the design of LGBTQ and intersex banking products.

The World Bank’s EQOSOGI Project has already collected LGBTQ- and intersex-specific data on legal gaps as well as practices that impact LGBTQ and intersex people in 16 countries, and it aims to expand its coverage to more countries in 2024. The EQOSOGI Project is also expanding its research to quantify the economic costs of excluding LGBTQ and intersex people, starting with Serbia and North Macedonia.

“We know the queer community is suffering very adverse consequences there, and it makes sense to have a legal mapping to understand the conditions on the ground that the queer community faces and to make sure that we protect — and at least — recommend anti-discriminatory practices,” said Kugler. 

The Colombian Congress in Bogotá, Colombia. The World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation’s $275 million loan to Banco Davivienda in Colombia provides funding for advisory services to LGBTQ and intersex people and for the design of LGBTQ and intersex banking products. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

She added she asks questions to her fellow board members “as far as standards and protections for projects in those contexts where the LGBTQI community is criminalized, so that we are sure that those communities have a voice when the bank comes in, if anything goes wrong.”

“We are very strong on that,” said Kugler. “We will continue to support communities and all communities, including the queer community, to be heard if anything goes wrong so that we can make sure that they are widely protected.”

“This will also send a message to these countries that at some point they have to start considering legal changes,” she added. “It starts with raising the issue in front of the rest of the board, all of the world, that these issues of inclusion should be lifted up and they need to be rethinking their legal framework.”

Then-World Bank President Jim Yong Kim in 2014 postponed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government in response to President Yoweri Museveni’s decision to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposed a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. 

The Ugandan Constitutional Court later struck down the “Kill the Gays” law on a technicality, but Kim’s decision to postpone the loan without first consulting the World Bank’s board sparked widespread criticism among board members. Advocacy groups had asked the World Bank not to fund future projects in Uganda, but they did not ask for the cancellation of existing loans.

“We are all very aware of the Uganda case that went wrong,” Kugler told the Blade.

“We’re absolutely firm as part of the World Bank Group’s work and as the U.S. chair that we will protect anybody, to make sure that our projects not only do more good than bad, but that they actually do no harm,” she added. “They shouldn’t be harming communities and they should certainly not be harming LGBTQI communities around the world.”

Kugler acknowledged the World Bank still does not have LGBTQ-specific safeguards, but she added it “is something that is still being discussed.”

The Treasury Department last May endorsed an LGBTQ-specific Asian Development Bank safeguard. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights is among the organizations that have also backed it.

Chantale Wong, the U.S. director of the Asian Development Bank who is the first openly lesbian American ambassador, last fall told the Blade the Biden-Harris administration continues to push for the Philippines-based ADB to implement the safeguards. Kugler — who described Wong as “an amazing advocate” — noted the World Bank will soon release its new Gender Strategy that will include a nonbinary approach to gender.

“It is helpful when the CSO community engages in these processes, because they help us to lift up these issues with the management of the bank as well,” said Kugler.

“The voices from outside help put pressure … on the countries themselves and how the board proceeds,” she added.  

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White House rule would require asylum seekers to seek protection in 3rd country

Immigration Equality sharply criticized Biden-Harris administration proposal

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House on Dec. 13, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Groups that advocate on behalf of LGBTQ and intersex immigrants have sharply criticized the Biden-Harris administration over its plans to prohibit people from asking for asylum at the Southern border if they don’t seek protection in a country through which they passed.

“The proposed rule would encourage migrants to avail themselves of lawful, safe and orderly pathways into the United States, or otherwise to seek asylum or other protection in countries through which they travel, thereby reducing reliance on human smuggling networks that exploit migrants for financial gain,” reads the proposed rule the White House announced on Tuesday. “It would do so by introducing a rebuttable presumption of asylum ineligibility for certain noncitizens who neither avail themselves of a lawful, safe and orderly pathway to the United States nor seek asylum or other protection in a country through which they travel.”

The Associated Press notes the proposed rule must go through a 30-day public comment period before it can take effect. The regulation would remain in place for two years if the administration implements it.

“The president’s proposed rule will deny asylum to thousands of otherwise eligible refugees, many of whom will be LGBTQ people,” said Immigration Equality Executive Director Aaron C. Morris in a press release his organization released on Wednesday. “The rule puts into place impossible hurdles that people fleeing persecution will never be able to overcome. Additionally, a requirement that LGBTQ people apply for asylum in other countries before coming to the U.S. is misguided and blatantly contrary to federal law. Many common transit countries are extremely dangerous for LGBTQ asylum seekers, who face brutal violence, sexual assault, and murder as they flee to the U.S. for safety.”

Erin Argueta, senior lead attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, in a statement said it is “beyond disappointing that the Biden administration is moving forward with an anti-asylum policy that is copied from the cruel transit ban issued by the Trump administration.” 

“The Biden administration should not continue putting obstacles in the way of people fleeing danger and seeking safety in the United States, which will only increase harm,” said Argueta. “Instead, this administration should be strengthening the legal right to seek asylum at the U.S. border, not proposing an unworkable alternative that will only increase harm.”

The White House last month announced the expansion of the use of “expedited removal” of Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans who enter the U.S. from Mexico without legal authorization. The Biden-Harris administration also created a humanitarian parole program for Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans that combines “safe, orderly and lawful pathways to the United States, including authorization to work, with significant consequences for those who fail to use those pathways.”

The U.S., as part of the aforementioned announcement, launched a U.S. Customs and Border Protection app that allows Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans to “seek advance authorization to travel to the United States and be considered, on a case-by-case basis, for temporary grant of parole for up to two years, including employment authorization” if they pass security screenings and someone in the U.S. sponsors them. The Biden administration also allows up to 30,000 “qualifying nationals” from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela to live and work in the U.S. for up to two years.

The rule the White House has proposed would require most asylum seekers to use the app to schedule an initial appointment at a port of entry.

Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic, took effect in March 2020. 

It is expected to end in May when the COVID-19 public health emergency ends. The Associated Press reported the proposed rule the Biden administration announced on Tuesday would take effect at that time.

“The president must undo his predecessor’s anti-asylum policies, not expand on them. LGBTQ asylum seekers deserve a system that is equitable and accessible,” said Morris. “Their lives depend on it. The rule as proposed will almost certainly result in the senseless death of LGBTQ refugees, most of whom would otherwise find safety through asylum in the United States.”

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