Weeks after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, President Biden signed an executive order on Friday to safeguard access to reproductive health care services, including access to medical abortion and emergency contraception. 

The executive order aims to protect patient privacy and security, establish an interagency task force on reproductive health care access, and increase public education efforts “to ensure that Americans have access to reliable and accurate information about their rights and access to care,” according to a press statement. President Biden has directed Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to submit a report within 30 days on the actions being taken under the executive order.

“President Biden has made clear that the only way to secure a woman’s right to choose is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe as federal law,” the White House said in a press statement on Friday. “Until then, he has committed to doing everything in his power to defend reproductive rights and protect access to safe and legal abortion.”

There is no action President Biden can take to restore the constitutional right to abortion. He has publicly acknowledged that his options to expand abortion access remain limited, and has stated that Congress has complete control over the issue now. 

Democrats currently do not have enough votes in the Senate to overcome the Republican filibuster, and previous attempts to pass legislation that would codify and expand abortion rights have failed.

Biden stressed that voting in the upcoming November midterm elections, and electing more members of Congress who support federal legislation protecting abortion access, is the “fastest route available” to ensure abortion rights are preserved into law. 

“The fastest way to restore Roe is to pass a national law codifying Roe, which I will sign immediately upon its passage on my desk. We need two additional pro-choice senators and a pro-choice House to codify Roe as federal law. Your vote can make that a reality,” Biden said. “If you want to change the circumstance for women, and even little girls in this country, please go out and vote.”

The White House has resisted calls from Democrats and abortion rights groups to take more progressive actions to protect abortion access, including allowing abortion providers to work from federal property in states where the procedure is banned, and declaring access to abortion a public health emergency. Biden has also reiterated that he does not support expanding the Supreme Court. 

More than a dozen states have enacted strict abortion laws or completely banned access to abortion services. Biden’s executive order instructs Attorney General Merrick Garland and the White House staff to convene private pro bono attorneys, bar associations and public interest organizations to defend individuals targeted for prosecution if they travel out of state for reproductive health care. 

The order also instructs the Department of Health and Human Services to protect and expand access to medical abortion by mail, which is legal and approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but still restricted or banned in many states.

“We’re encouraged by the Biden-Harris administration’s work to defend abortion rights and access, and look forward to continuing partnership with the administration to make good on its commitment to championing reproductive freedom,” Mini Timmaraju, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement to CNN, adding that the executive order is “an important first step.”

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