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Wyden, Merkley want wider access to abortion pills, help with interstate travel for abortions

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, Democrats from Oregon, speak in Portland in December 2021. (Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Senate Democrats, including Oregon’s Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, are asking President Joe Biden to increase access to abortion pills and help patients obtain abortions in other states following Friday’s Supreme Court decision ending the national right to abortions. 

They have been worried about the Supreme Court decision for weeks, since a draft opinion revealing the court intended to overturn the nearly 50-year precedent set by Roe v Wade.

Earlier this month, Senate Democrats wrote to Biden, calling on the federal government to take action to shore up abortion rights. Then on Saturday, they wrote to Biden again, saying “now is the time for bold action.”

The letter followed a speech by the president on Friday, which came hours after the Supreme Court’s ruling. Biden said he would do what he could to protect abortion rights, but said his power was limited.

Congress could pass a law making abortion legal across the U.S., but it appears unlikely given the current congressional makeup. Every Democrat and at least 10 Republicans in the Senate would need to support the bill because of the Senate’s filibuster. 

The senators, led by Patty Murray, D-Washington and chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, indicated that Biden could take a number of actions. They include:

-Increasing access to medication abortion.

-Helping individuals obtain abortions in other states, such as by providing vouchers for travel and child care.

-Establishing a reproductive health ombudsman at the Department of Health and Human Services.

-Protecting sensitive health and location data, particularly when it comes to websites or mobile apps used to track periods or fertility.

-Analyzing the use of federal property to increase abortion access and considering whether to move military personnel and their families to states where abortions remain legal.

-Ensuring that Medicaid clients can access a provider of their choice for family planning services.

“These proposals are only starting points in a federal apparatus that affects millions of Americans every day. The entirety of the federal government has to be engaged in the administration’s efforts and must act as swiftly as possible,” the June 7 letter said.

Leaders in some states have said they will try to restrict access to medications like mifepristone, a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000 to end a pregnancy up to 10 weeks. It is commonly prescribed for miscarriages. It is usually prescribed with another pill – misoprostol. The latter would be difficult to restrict because it’s also prescribed for stomach ulcers.

The Food and Drug Administration began allowing mailing abortion pills late last year. The pills are prescribed by doctors and can be self-administered.

Biden’s administration said it would seek to ensure that patients have access to medications and contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration. 

A majority of the abortions in Oregon under Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette and Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon, which perform half of the state’s abortions, are done by medication. Oregon providers cannot prescribe out-of-state but they can prescribe to patients with an Oregon address.

The Supreme Court decision won’t affect abortions in Oregon, where they’re protected by law.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: [email protected] Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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