Joe Biden is to sign an executive order offering protections to millions of American women denied the constitutional right to an abortion.
The move signals the start of a White House fightback after the supreme court last month struck down Roe v Wade, its landmark ruling that for half a century had legalised abortion nationwide.
The president, who condemned the court’s decision as a “tragic error”, is due to speak about the executive order from the Roosevelt Room at the White House on Friday morning.
According to a fact sheet released by the administration, Biden’s order will safeguard access to reproductive healthcare services, including abortion and contraception. This includes access to medication abortions, also known as abortion pills, approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Among the provisions is a plan for Merrick Garland, the attorney general, and Dana Remus, the White House counsel, to convene private pro bono lawyers, bar associations and public interest organisations 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 an abortion. Biden and Garland have vowed to oppose any state or local official who attempts to interfere with women exercising that right.
In addition, the executive order is designed to promote “the safety and security of patients, providers, and clinics”. A how-to guide for consumers will explain steps to ensure they are protecting their personal data on mobile apps amid fears that state officials could try to track and prosecute them.
An interagency taskforce will coordinate federal government efforts to protect reproductive rights. Garland will provide technical assistance to states affording legal protection to out-of-state patients as well as providers who offer legal reproductive health care.
The supreme court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade two weeks ago was a seismic shock to the political system that left elected officials scrambling to respond. It leaves about half of the states certain or likely to immediately ban abortion and will disproportionately affect women of colour, low-income women and rural women.
A Pew Research Center survey published this week found that 57% of adults disapprove of the court’s sweeping decision, while 41% approve. Public support for legal abortion remains largely unchanged since before the decision, with 62% saying it should be legal in all or most cases.
Biden has been criticised for failing to push back hard enough. Friday’s executive order might buy him some time but is necessarily limited in scope. He acknowledged as much in White House remarks on the day of the court’s ruling.
“Let me be very clear and unambiguous,” he said. “The only way we can secure a woman’s right to choose and the balance that existed is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe v Wade as federal law. No executive action from the president can do that. And if Congress, as it appears, lacks the votes to do that now, voters need to make their voices heard.”