You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Biden's health secretary unveils 'action plan' on abortion access

ABC News logo ABC News 6/28/2022
UP NEXT
UP NEXT

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra held a news conference Tuesday in Washington to "unveil an action plan" on abortion as advocates call on President Joe Biden and his administration to do more in the wake of the Supreme Court stripping the constitutional right to abortion nationwide.

"Friday's Supreme Court decision was despicable. But it was not unpredictable. HHS has been preparing for this for some time," he began, before laying out largely existing policy protecting the right to abortion.

He said HHS will first take steps to increase access to medication abortion -- but he said later to "stay tuned" on what exactly those steps would be.

"Second, I am directing the Office for Civil Rights within HHS to ensure patient privacy and nondiscrimination for patients seeking reproductive health care as well as for providers who offer that reproductive health care service," he said. "Third, I am directing the Department to examine its authority under the emergency medical treatment and Active Labor Act EMTALA to ensure that 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."

"Fourth, I am directing all agencies in my department to work to ensure that all providers, from doctors to pharmacists to clinics have appropriate training and resources to handle family planning needs, including administering patient referrals for care and helping patients navigate this new reality, he continued. "Fifth, I am directing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services CMS to take every legally available step to protect family planning care, including emergency contraceptives and long-acting reversible contraceptives, such as IUDs."

Becerra called this "a critical moment in our history."

"How we respond will speak to how we view the rights, the dignity and the well being of women everywhere," he said, before taking questions from reporters. "At HHS, we will leave no stone unturned."

Health and Human Services Secretary Xaviar Becerra holds a news conference to unveil the Biden administration's action plan following the overturning of Roe v Wade, at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, June 28, 2022. © Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters Health and Human Services Secretary Xaviar Becerra holds a news conference to unveil the Biden administration's action plan following the overturning of Roe v Wade, at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, June 28, 2022.

Abortion rights groups have also pitched a variety of options for the federal government to take.

MORE: Responding to Roe's demise, some fellow Democrats tell Biden: 'Do absolutely everything'

One option presented was to declare a public health emergency to free up federal funds, possibly to use for transportation, an idea supported by members of Congressional Black Caucus. But this approach would likely be challenged in court as a violation of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funds to cover almost all abortions. Becerra did not call for one Tuesday.

While some Democrats have urged the administration to look into whether reproductive health services could be provided on federal lands or on federal property, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre shot down the idea Tuesday, saying anyone who is not a federal employee who utilized such facilities could be subject to prosecution under some state laws.

"We understand the proposal as well the intention but here's the thing, it could actually put women and providers at risk," she said.

Another idea is to loosen restrictions on the abortion pill so that it can be picked up at pharmacies. Currently, only registered clinicians can prescribe it and mail it. Pharmacies are not part of that network, which would require FDA regulatory action.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies before a House Committee on Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on Capitol Hill, April 27, 2022, in Washington. © Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images, FILE Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies before a House Committee on Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on Capitol Hill, April 27, 2022, in Washington.

"Federal law requires our programs to provide medication abortion in certain circumstances, such as the life of the woman rate, or instance," Becerra said Tuesday. "Now more than ever, it is imperative that all federally supported programs and services are complying with the law."

MORE: Abortions to move underground in half the US: Here's how it might work

While telehealth medicine is allowable under federal rules, it's not a loophole to circumvent state restrictions -- which Becerra acknowledged.

"So far, you seem to have been restating largely existing policy reminding Americans of the assistance that is available," said ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce. "But you yourself just said this decision was not unpredictable. When can we expect more concrete steps to be announced? What's the holdup here? Or are you acknowledging that your hands are largely tied?"

"We're not interested in going rogue and doing things just because we want to make sure what we tell Americans is accurate -- because we hear, we know, a lot Americans are hearing a lot of inaccurate information," Becerra replied. "And so to every American who's impacted: My apologies that, I as I said, we can't tell you there's a silver bullet. But what I am saying to you is that the more we dig, we will do everything we can with what we find to make sure we're protecting women's reproductive health care services. It takes a little time because we want to do it right, and we want to do it according to the law."

Asked about possible ways to help with transportation for women who may need to travel to another state to get an abortion, Becerra said, "Once we tell you exactly what we believe we are able to do, have the money to do, we will let you know, but until then, what I can simply say to you is every option is on the table."

Right now, the only legal option a person has in a restricted state for abortion services would be to travel to a state where it is allowed.

Otherwise, the person can go online and engage providers who are outside the scope of the U.S. regulatory system, such as the international organization Aid Access, which says it will prescribe the pill to women in the U.S. for 95 euros regardless of where they live. The FDA does not recommend this, although advocates say the group is using a reputable pharmacy in India.

"We're going to stay within the confines of the law," Becerra stressed, "even though it's a lot I personally believe jeopardizes the health of women."

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From ABC News

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon