Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said Tuesday that the federal government will work to ensure access to abortion pills and explore other means to ensure women can end their pregnancies after the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the constitutional right to the procedure.
“Friday’s Supreme Court decision was despicable, but it was also predictable,” Becerra said, adding that his Department of Health and Human Services “has been preparing for this for some time.”
But Becerra also acknowledged “there is no magic bullet,” and that it was unclear how far the federal government can go in providing abortion access in states that move to restrict it.
“If there is something we can do, we will find it and we will do it at HHS,” Becerra said. “Indeed, that was the instruction I received from the President of the United States.”
President Biden said the administration is working to ensure medication abortion is available and that women can travel safely from states where abortion is banned to states where abortion is legal.
Becerra said federal law “requires our programs to provide medication abortion in limited circumstances, including life of the mother, rape, or incest,” and that “it is imperative that all federally-supported programs and services are complying and providing this under the law.”
Becerra also said that his department is working with the Office of Civil Rights “to ensure patient privacy and nondiscrimination for patients seeking reproductive health care, as well as for providers who offer reproductive health care.”
The department is exploring its authority under the Emergency Medical Treatment Act to ensure the clinical judgment of doctors and hospitals is supported in treating pregnant patients, including those experiencing pregnancy loss or complications, and “reaffirming that abortion care can be appropriate to stabilize patients.”
Becerra said he’s directed the department to work to ensure that doctors, pharmacists and clinics have appropriate training and resources to handle family planning needs, including administering patient referrals for care, and “helping patients navigate this new reality.”
And he said he has directed the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to take “every legally available step to protect family planning care, including emergency contraceptives and long-acting reversible contraceptives, such as IUDs.
“Health care is a matter to be decided by patients and their providers, not politicians,” Becerra said. “We will make clear that family planning providers are able to participate in the Medicaid program.”
Becerra was short on specifics, however, and in response to news reporters’ questions, acknowledged the administration is still researching what is possible under the Supreme Court decision, even though it was leaked publicly a month and a half ago in essentially its final form.
“Once we’re able to tell you what we believe we are able to do, what we have the money to do, every option is on the table,” Becerra said. “It was a long decision and it did upend 50 years of precedent. You want to make sure what you do is within the confines of the law. We’re not interested in going rogue and doing things just because.”