Vanita Gupta, associate attorney general, has been selected to chair the Reproductive Rights Task Force, which was announced Tuesday. Pool File Photo by Tom Williams/UPI | License Photo
July 12 (UPI) -- The Justice Department on Tuesday announced a new task force dedicated to safeguarding federal protections for reproductive healthcare as Republican-led states seek to ban abortion in the wake of Roe vs. Wade being overturned.
Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta will chair the Reproductive Rights Task Force, which has the mission to monitor state and local bans on abortion for overreach.
The Justice Department explained in a statement that some of the actions it will be looking for include those that deny a women's ability to seek reproductive care and a person's ability to inform others about such services as well as bans on abortion-inducing drugs and the imposition of criminal or civil penalties on federal employees who provide legal reproductive health services.
Officials said the task force formalizes months of work being conducted behind scenes at the Justice Department to identify ways to protect access to abortion in anticipation of the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling of Roe vs. Wade being overturned -- which the high court did late last month.
Gupta described that decision in a video message as "devastating," and that the task force will explore with reproductive rights organizations, patients, law firms and other stakeholders "every legal option to protect and provide comprehensive reproductive health services."
"The court took away a constitutional right, preventing women from being able to make decisions about our bodies, our health and our futures," she said. "While we recognize that congressional action is the best answer, we will not be deterred from using every tool at our disposal to defend reproductive freedom."
The announcement was made days after President Joe Biden announced an executive order aimed at protecting access to abortion while directing Justice Department prosecutors to "do everything in their power to protect these women seeking to invoke their right" to reproductive healthcare.
In remarks from the Roosevelt Room at the White House on Friday, Biden said federal prosecutors will work in states where abortion clinics are still open to protect them from intimidation. They will protect the rights of women to travel with the purpose of seeking medical attention from a state where abortion is banned to one where it is not and to protect a women's right to U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved medication.
He warned that the decision by the conservative-leaning Supreme Court to throw out federal abortion protections has been received by Republican politicians as a "green light" to seek a national ban.
Thirteen states had so-called trigger abortion bans in place in anticipation of Roe vs. Wade being overturned, with the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health and rights institute, judging a total of 26 states are either certain or likely to move to prohibit the medical procedure.
Alexis McGill Johnson, the president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Federation, called the creation of the task force "a meaningful step in providing a framework for enforcing federal protection for those helping patients navigate access to abortion."
"We look forward to seeing its work quickly take shape," Johnson said in a statement.
The moves come as Biden has received criticism from members of his Democratic Party as well as activists for not taking more assertive steps to protect access to abortion following the overturning of Roe vs. Wade
Biden has repeatedly said it'll take codifying abortion into federal law to protect access nationwide, and has called on the public to vote in November for those who will support that measure.
"My ultimate goal is to reinstate Roe vs. Wade as the national law by passing it in the United States Congress," he said on Sunday.
Women attend a candlelight vigil in Washington on June 26, two days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, ending federal abortion protections. Photo by Jemal Countess/UPI | License Photo