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Eighty-three House Democrats signed a letter urging President Biden and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to declare a public health emergency to mitigate the “full-scale reproductive health crisis” from the Supreme Court overturning the Roe v. Wade abortion case.
“The Supreme Court’s radical and dangerous decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has precipitated a full-scale reproductive health crisis across our nation,” the Democrats, led by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, wrote in the letter sent Tuesday. “It has also plunged our health system into a state of uncertainty and upheaval that threatens patients’ lives.”
In Dobbs, the Court reversed Roe, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states, striking down state laws. The recent decision returns the hot-button issue to the states, where Democratic-controlled legislatures have codified Roe and Republican-controlled legislatures have acted to protect the unborn.
“Abortion bans can unnecessarily impede lifesaving medical procedures in the event of pregnancy complications or loss,” the Democrats argued in the letter. “Health experts warn that in the aftermath of this disastrous ruling, the U.S. maternal mortality rate — which is already the highest in the developed world — is certain to rise, with disproportionate impacts on communities of color.”
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The Democrats argued for a federal government intervention, claiming that “the impacts of this ruling are not limited to health systems in states where abortion is now illegal.” They mentioned “the spillover effects of state laws banning abortion on the health systems in neighboring states that protect the legal right to abortion. Abortion providers have reported that patients in need of abortion are seeking care in other states, causing unprecedented strain on limited resources and delaying care for residents.”
The legislators urged Biden to “issue a national emergency declaration” under the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, the Public Health Service Act and the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act.
“As we have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, a public health emergency declaration can provide significant new authority and flexibility for a federal emergency response,” they wrote. “Relevant activities may include but are not limited to Public Health Services Corps team deployments, Medicaid State Plan Amendment flexibilities to support safe-haven states, and the ability to accelerate access to new medications authorized for abortion.”
Many prominent Democrats signed the letter, including Reps. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.; Joaquin Castro, D-Texas; Katie Porter, D-Calif.; and Al Greene, D-Texas. While Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., did not sign it, her allies such as Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., did.
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Democrats have previously demanded “more fight” from the president on abortion, calling his response to Dobbs “painfully inadequate.”
Biden and Becerra have moved to protect medication abortion and Attorney General Merrick Garland has stated that the Biden administration will fight any pro-life legislature’s attempt to prevent women from crossing state lines to obtain an abortion.
Brian Castrucci, president and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation and a public health expert, warned on Twitter that when it comes to abortion, a “public health emergency could be a temporary fix but could also further politicize public health.” He added that “abortion access (like any health care procedure) should not be dependent on controlling political party.”
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Republicans have repeatedly condemned Democrats for allegedly abusing the power of public emergency declarations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the health issue, critics have noted that Republican pro-life bills do not ban ectopic pregnancies, contrary to claims from Democrats including Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., who signed the letter. George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley has condemned this claim as not only false, but “dangerous.”