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Justice Department launches task force seeking to protect abortion rights

Kamala Harris on protecting abortion rights
Vice President Kamala Harris on protecting abortion rights 03:43

The Justice Department on Tuesday announced that it has created a task force whose goal is to protect abortion access following the Supreme Court decision last month overturning Roe v. Wade.

The Reproductive Rights Task Force, according to the Justice Department, will "monitor and evaluate" any "state and local legislation" that seeks to prevent women from traveling to another state for an abortion, bans FDA-approved abortion pills or prevents women from receiving information on what reproductive care is available to them in states where abortion is legal.

The announcement comes after President Joe Biden signed an executive order last week that called on the Justice Department to do everything within its power to protect women seeking an abortion. The order also directed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure all women and girls experiencing pregnancy loss receive the emergency care they need, no matter what state they're in. The executive order also protects access to contraception and expands access to free contraception.

The task force will include representatives from several divisions, including the Office of the Solicitor General, Office for Access to Justice and the Civil Rights Division. It will be chaired by Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.

"As Attorney General Garland has said, the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision is a devastating blow to reproductive freedom in the United States," Gupta said in a statement. "The Court abandoned 50 years of precedent and took away the constitutional right to abortion, preventing women all over the country from being able to make critical decisions about our bodies, our health, and our futures. The Justice Department is committed to protecting access to reproductive services."

On Monday, HHS issued a directive to hospitals that stated they must offer abortion services if the life of the mother is at risk. The department cited requirements on medical facilities in the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). The law requires medical facilities to determine whether a person seeking treatment may be in labor or whether they face an emergency health situation — or one that could develop into an emergency — and provide treatment.

Biden said Friday that it will be up to Congress to codify Roe into law. While the House this week is expected to pass a bill that would restore abortion rights previously protected by Roe, the bill is destined to die in the Senate. 

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