July 14, 2022

Warren, Booker, Padilla Lead Senate Democrats Urging the Biden Administration to Declare a National and Public Health Emergency on Reproductive Rights

Emergency Declarations Could Unlock Key Federal Resources and Authorities to Safeguard and Improve Access to Reproductive Care

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and over a dozen Senate Democrats wrote to President Biden and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra, urging them to immediately declare national and public health emergencies over Americans’ access to reproductive care.

The letter was signed by 18 Senators in total, including Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai'i), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

“By overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decided that the government – not the person who is pregnant – should determine private health care decisions, denying women the right to control their own bodies and exacerbating the nation’s shameful maternal mortality crisis,” said Senator Warren. “This is an emergency – and we need to treat it like one. Declaring a national and public health emergency will help ensure that abortion and other reproductive care is accessible, affordable, and available.”

“The U.S already has the highest rate of maternal mortality among its peer countries. Health experts agree that the outrageous Dobbs ruling will increase maternal mortality rates, with a disproportionate impact on Black, Indigenous and other communities of color. The federal government should do everything in its power to ensure all Americans have access to the reproductive care they need. Declaring a national and public health emergency underscores the urgency of this crisis and opens new options to protect Americans’ reproductive rights,” said Senator Booker.

“A post-Roe America puts people’s lives in danger and we strongly urge the President to declare a public health emergency,” said Senator Padilla. “The Dobbs decision has created a public health crisis for millions of Americans as extreme Republican state legislatures across the country implement dangerous abortion bans. We must act urgently and use every tool at our disposal to protect reproductive health care.”

Millions of Americans have been endangered by the Supreme Court’s reckless decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and eliminate the constitutional right to an abortion. In state after state, Republican lawmakers have implemented extremist abortion bans and restrictions. Health care providers have already been forced to withhold lifesaving care. And the maternal mortality crisis, mental health outcomes, and economic disparities are bound to worsen, especially if rightwing extremists follow through on their public calls for a nationwide abortion ban. 

“As President of the United States and Secretary of Health and Human Services, you have the authority to declare a national emergency and public health emergency over these attacks on Americans’ reproductive rights. . . . These authorities have been used by the Biden-Harris Administration—and other presidential administrations—to address public health crises ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to the opioid epidemic,” wrote the lawmakers.

The letter is endorsed by leading reproductive rights organizations including: Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Center for Reproductive Rights, and EMAA Project.

The lawmakers outlined six powerful flexibilities and resources that could be unlocked by emergency declarations to safeguard and improve access to reproductive care across the country. By declaring a national and public health emergency, the administration could:

  • Allow doctors licensed in one state to provide reproductive care in other states. Using waivers of Section 1135 of the Social Security Act, the federal government could waive licensing requirements under Medicaid, Medicare, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program as long as doctors have equivalent licensing in other states.
  • Enable state Medicaid programs to more easily accept out-of-state patients seeking reproductive care. Disaster-Relief State Plan Amendments could enable states to expand the pool of people covered by their Medicaid programs, including out-of-state residents who leave their home states for medical reasons.
  • Facilitate reproductive care for people who need emergency assistance. In support of Secretary Becerra’s directive to ensure care under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, Section 1135 waivers could facilitate the transfer of patients who need emergency lifesaving care—including abortions—for conditions such as pregnancy loss.
  • Permit the deployment of federal, state, and local medical personnel. During a public health emergency, the HHS Secretary has the authority to deploy the National Disaster Medical System, the Volunteer Medical Reserve Corps, and Commissioned Corps Officers, as well as reassign federally-funded state and local public health officials to address the emergency.
  • Protect patient access to medication abortion. Under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, the HHS Secretary can protect those involved in the administration or use of “covered countermeasures”—a term which could encompass medication abortion—from certain state restrictions, claims, and lawsuits, as the Department did during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Expedite research, information-gathering, and demonstration projects on reproductive care. Public health emergency authority could enable HHS to more quickly gather information about the reproductive care crisis in the country (e.g., through surveys and research) and deploy Medicaid demonstration projects to respond (e.g., by enabling states to finance the travel of low-income women in anti-abortion states to access reproductive care).

“While it is impossible to immediately undo the damage inflicted by the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade, the Biden-Harris Administration must use every tool within its power to fight back,” concluded the lawmakers. “Your leadership during this unprecedented crisis for women is more important than ever.”

As the right to abortion is under attack by an extremist Supreme Court and rightwing state legislatures, Senator Warren has called on the government to use every tool to protect reproductive freedom:

  • On July 7, 2022, Senators Warren and Klobuchar sent letters to Facebook and Instagram, calling on them to address their reported censorship of posts related to abortion services, following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last month.
  • On July 7, 2022, Senator Warren announced two key data brokers’ commitments to permanently stop selling the location data of people seeking abortion services.
  • On June 23, 2022, Senators Warren and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) introduced the Stop Anti-Abortion Disinformation Act, legislation that would crack down on false advertising that crisis pregnancy centers employ to dissuade patients from getting the reproductive care they need, including abortion care. 
  • On June 22, 2022, following the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Senators Warren and Smith wrote an op-ed in the New York Times laying out the next steps in the fight to protect the right to an abortion, including calling for the declaration of a public health emergency.
  • On June 15, 2022, Senator Warren introduced the Health and Location Data Protection Act, legislation that bans data brokers from selling some of the most sensitive data available about everyday Americans: their health and location data. 
  • On June 7, 2022, Senators Warren and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) led 23 of their Senate colleagues in a letter to President Biden urging him to immediately issue an executive order directing the federal government to develop a national plan to defend Americans’ fundamental reproductive rights, including their right to an abortion.
  • On May 17, 2022, Senator Warren led thirteen of her Senate colleagues in letters to two data brokers demanding answers regarding their collection and sale of the cellphone-based location data of people who visit abortion clinics such as Planned Parenthood. 
  • On May 10, 2022, Senator Warren delivered a speech on the floor of the United States Senate on the need to protect the constitutional right to an abortion, pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, and fight back against Republican extremism. 
  • On May 9, 2022, Senator Warren wrote an op-ed in Marie Claire about the need to enshrine the right to an abortion in federal law. 
  • On May 3, 2022, when the draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked, Senator Warren spoke on the steps of the Supreme Court twice to activists, protestors, and the nation about the need to protect abortion rights.