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Progressives push 10 executive actions on abortion access

The 10 executive actions, developed with progressive allies and in consultation with key stakeholders, present a new set of objectives for Democrats to strive for, a new roadmap for Democratic voters to cling to, and a new pressure point between progressives and the Biden administration.

With a Senate lacking the votes to codify Roe v. Wade or willingness to change the rules to pass legislation with a simple majority, executive actions have materialized as a new avenue for Democrats to pursue.

“The number one tool in our toolbox at this moment is with executive actions,” Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington state, told CNN.

The new slate of actions for Biden to consider also comes as progressives are growing increasingly frustrated that not enough executive action is being taken.

“I think it’s taken a bit of time for the White House to just tap into how furious we are particularly as women and pregnant people and people who have had abortions or might have an abortion and that’s unfortunate,” Jayapal said.

The Progressive Caucus has not engaged with the White House in detail yet over the new executive actions list, but has discussed broadly the possibilities with executive action, Jayapal said. Part of why progressives are motivated to put out this new slate is they saw success with the executive action list they introduced last year, which sparked vigorous negotiations with the White House.

“The CPC’s new Reproductive Freedom Action Agenda presents a roadmap for the work ahead. It is centered on executive and legislative actions that directly respond to the crisis of abortion access caused by the extremist Supreme Court majority in its Dobbs decision, and the threats to further due process rights named in Justice Thomas’ concurrence,” the caucus said in a statement. In addition to executive actions, the group also laid out a list of legislative priorities.

The slate points to specific areas where the federal government can leverage its power to do more. Two of the items address the need for the federal government to ensure medicated abortions are accessible, by addressing the role providers play, not just retail pharmacies. Jayapal told CNN that the Biden administration has “expressed openness to this.”

Another executive action calls on the Department of Health and Human Services to require all hospitals who take part in Medicare to provide abortion care. Two executive actions call on the Biden administration to ensure undocumented people and those in federal custody have access to abortion care. Building on the reproductive rights task force announced by the Department of Justice, one executive action calls on the federal government to provide funds to individuals who need to travel across state lines to pay for abortion access.

The list also encompasses previous calls to Biden such as calling for a declaration of a public health emergency on reproductive care access.

Jayapal said members of the Progressive Caucus met with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra this week and characterized the Biden administration’s willingness to declare a public health emergency as still open, which is “better than a ‘no,’ but we’re not there yet.”

While frustrated by the rules and makeup of the Senate and the limited actions Biden has taken so far, Jayapal believes Democrats have to do more to engage with voters and not play into the hands of Republicans.

“If you just say ‘Well, vote,’ and you don’t explain any of the other stuff, people are going to be furious because they have voted,” Jayapal told CNN. “We have not done a good job in my mind as Democrats, as a country of actually explaining the structural problem with the Senate and the filibuster and if you don’t do that, it’s to the Republicans’ benefit because they can do exactly what they’ve been doing, which is hold up everything and then blame Democrats.”

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Jayapal also believes progressives are gaining momentum, as the Biden administration has enacted a number of executive actions the caucus has introduced previously, in addition to Biden agreeing that a special carve-out is needed in the Senate to codify abortion rights.
The progressive caucus rolled out its list of executive actions the same day the House voted on the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill aimed at preserving access to an abortion nationwide, and the Ensuring Access to Abortion act, which seeks to safeguard those who need to travel for abortion access care.

Even though the Senate is unlikely to take up those bills, Jayapal does not view those votes in the House as a waste of time, and key to the multi-faceted approach.

“We can pass stuff and we should because we also need to lay out a vision,” Jayapal said. “We have to show people that we in the House, we get elected every two years that we are doing what we promised we would do, and the block is in the Senate.”

And ultimately, the frustration that people feel, Jayapal not only relates to, but views as necessary to generating action.

“I always acknowledge the frustration because I feel it too. I mean I think the rage and the anger and the frustration is important,” Jayapal said. “I want us to keep up our anger and channel our frustration which is very, very, very legitimate and necessary frankly, in order to get what we need to get.”

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