Becerra promises health agencies will increase access to abortion pills

The federal government will make abortion pills more readily available to patients now that states have moved to ban abortion following the Supreme Court’s reversal of its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, the top official said Tuesday. of health from the Biden administration.

“Increasing access to this drug is a national imperative and in the public interest,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said during a 30-minute press conference at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, DC.

Becerra promised his office will work with federal law enforcement agencies to make sure states can’t ban abortion pills, as some Republican-run states have tried to do – although there are not sure how the laws would be applied given that the pills are sent by post.

Federal offices will also send information to health care providers about the drugs, called misoprostol and mifepristone, Becerra said. But he refrained from saying that every medical provider should offer the abortion pill when asked about the possibility by a reporter.

Instead, he said HHS plans to remind federal health care programs that they are required by law to provide abortion pills to patients who want them following cases of rape, incest or life-threatening pregnancies.

Congress and states have looked to the Biden administration for answers on how to respond to Roe’s disappearance since Friday, after the Supreme Court struck down more than 50 years of precedent on abortion rights. .

At his press conference, Becerra, who previously served as California’s attorney general, outlined a plan for the administration and called the Supreme Court’s decision “despicable” but “also predictable.”

“At HHS, we will leave no stone unturned,” Becerra said. “All options are on the table. We will do everything within the legal limits to reach patients and healthcare providers.”

The plan is still taking shape

Part of the plan will make it clear to health care providers who accept Medicaid funding — which typically covers low-income people — that they can use federal funds to pay

birth control

for the sick. Coverage will pay for emergency contraception, like Plan B, and long-term contraceptives known as intrauterine devices or IUDs.

The agency will help train doctors and pharmacists on birth control and on referring patients elsewhere in cases where they cannot provide reproductive health care.

Becerra also asks the Civil Rights Office to ensure that patients and medical providers can keep health information private and not face discrimination when seeking abortions or birth control.

He wants his office to see how to use the Emergency Medical Treatment Act to enforce abortion rights. Although Becerra did not commit to specifics, one way could be for federal officials to investigate emergency services that do not provide abortions when a pregnancy threatens a patient’s health or life. .

Becerra’s proposals also lacked other details. For example, he did not say whether the administration would offer patients travel vouchers to obtain out-of-state abortions.

Asked about a proposal by Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to locate abortion clinics on federal land, Becerra said he was “aware” of many proposals from outside groups but had no ” not yet made a decision” and would discuss any proposal with the White House.

Vice President Kamala Harris told CNN on Monday that the Biden administration has not discussed the idea.

“We can’t tell you that there is a silver bullet,” Becerra said, promising to do “everything we can,” but that it would take time to explore options to ensure their policies were met. legal.

Medical abortions offer an alternative to clinics

Last year, the FDA under President Joe Biden ruled that doctors did not have to provide pills to abortion patients in person – a move that represented a victory for abortion rights advocates. The move allowed healthcare providers to meet with patients via video and prescribe abortion pills that arrive in the mail and can be used up to 11 weeks into a pregnancy.

Today, medical abortions account for 54% of abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

The Supreme Court’s decision on abortion leaves the legality of the procedure to state legislatures, unless members of Congress unite on a national abortion law, whether it be a guarantee of the right to abortion or a ban.

Most Democrats in Congress have united behind the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would make abortion legal in all states and remove most restrictions on the procedure.

Republicans have introduced several bills to ban abortions later in pregnancy and a bill to ban the FDA from approving new abortion drugs. This bill, the SAVE Moms and Babies Act, would also limit medical abortions so doctors can only administer them to patients in person.