A group of Democratic senators is calling on the Biden administration to establish an Office of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Wellbeing in order to “more holistically address ‘the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy,’” according to a letter first shared with The 19th. The office they envision would encompass a range of issues that would “go beyond securing reproductive rights.”
“Reproductive justice for all means addressing issues of health care access; economic inequality; discrimination based on race, gender identity, and sexual orientation; food security; housing stability; environmental justice; immigrant’s rights; disability rights; and so much more,” says the letter, which was led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, and was signed by four additional Senate Democrats.
The breadth of that charge, they add, means that “securing true reproductive justice is beyond the scope of any one existing executive department” — not necessarily constrained, for instance, to Health and Human Services or Housing and Urban Development.
The office would be part of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, which advises the president on key matters of national significance and is currently headed by former U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice.
The senators argue such an office would play a critical role not only in advancing access to reproductive health care — which the World Health organization defines as “complete physical, mental and social well-being … in all matters relating to the reproductive system” — but also in enabling people to decide whether they want to have children, and, if they do, to be able to raise them “in safe and sustainable communities.”
Reproductive rights and issues related to raising children have already emerged as early priorities for President Joe Biden. The coronavirus relief package making its way through Congress would put $24 billion toward supporting child care, an area that has been decimated by the pandemic. It also would expand the child tax credit to as much as $4,000. And last month, Biden’s administration started the process to potentially undo restrictions from former President Donald Trump that curtailed access to reproductive health care generally, and abortion specifically.
Warren has also previously led legislation that would address the pandemic’s impact on pregnancy-related health. That bill did not become law, but has been reintroduced as part of the so-called “Momnibus Act,” which Booker sponsored in the Senate earlier this month.
Experts worry the past year has exacerbated the nation’s long-standing pregnancy-related mortality crisis and amplified gender-based mental health disparities. Fallout from the economic downturn, including the national surge in food insecurity, has disproportionately harmed mothers. The federal government has done little to track the impact on LGBTQ+ people, but preexisting inequities mean it is likely they have also suffered disproportionately.
That context, the senators argue, means “the comprehensive scope of reproductive health care must be an early priority for the Biden administration.”