Biden's health secretary: 'No silver bullet' to preserve access to abortion

WASHINGTON — With Democrats and reproductive rights advocates clamoring for President Biden to forcefully oppose the Supreme Court’s rul...

WASHINGTON — With Democrats and reproductive rights advocates clamoring for President Biden to forcefully oppose the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, his health secretary, Xavier Becerra, appeared Tuesday at a lectern to list the steps his department would take to preserve and expand access to abortion.

The list, for now anyway, is short.

“There’s no magic formula,” Mr. Becerra told an early morning press conference, “but if there’s something we can do, we’ll find it and we’ll do it.”

The Supreme Court’s decision on Friday eliminating the constitutional right to abortion was not unexpected, but neither the White House nor Mr. Becerra’s agency had immediate policy responses ready. Administration officials say they are still grappling with the prospect that a mainstream area of ​​women’s health care will suddenly become illegal in about half the country and they will need time to sort out their options. .

Still, Mr. Biden is under intense political pressure to act, and after his press conference, some defenders accused Mr. Becerra of appearing lukewarm. Some Democrats, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have pushed the Biden administration to explore the possibility of building abortion clinics on federal land and paying for people from the out of state go there for the procedure.

This was not part of the measures announced by Mr. Becerra. Instead, he said that, at Mr. Biden’s direction, he asked his agency to take steps such as ensuring that federal insurance programs cover medical abortion in cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life is in danger. Although the Hyde Amendment prohibits taxpayer funding for abortion, it includes exceptions for all three of these cases.

“We can’t meet scorched earth with milquetoast,” said Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute of Reproductive Health, an advocacy organization. “I’m not asking for scorched earth, but I’m saying you have to be willing to stop drawing in the lines. You have to be willing to take risks.”

In addition to creating abortion clinics on federal land, Miller said the administration should find ways to support abortion clinics that are about to close, perhaps by turning them into logistics hubs. to help women who have to cross state lines. About half of the states are expected to allow bans or other procedural limitations to take effect following the ruling, or have already done so.

Ms. Miller acknowledged the administration had limitations and said she sympathized with Biden officials. But the nation is in crisis, she said, adding: “Why not push the boundaries?”

Mr Becerra said his agency would work with the Department of Justice to ensure women have access to abortion pills – a pair of two different drugs, taken 24 to 48 hours apart and allowed during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy – in places where state law conflicts with the judgment of the Food and Drug Administration, which has approved the drugs for use and determined them to be safe and effective.

The secretary did not go into details. But in December, the FDA approved a settlement allowing the prescription of abortion pills during telemedicine visits and their distribution by mail. Some advocates also want the FDA to declare that its regulations take precedence over state laws banning abortion — a decision the Justice Department may have to defend in court.

It will also require hospital emergency rooms to comply with a federal law requiring them to stabilize patients in medical emergencies, including performing abortions, if necessary. And the agency will take steps to ensure that patient records are private, to prevent state or local authorities from identifying women who have had abortions.

Warning of what the administration can and cannot do, Becerra said there remain complex legal issues to work out to ensure he does not violate the court’s ruling in the case. Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“It was a long decision and it overturned 50 years of precedent, and so you want to make sure what you’re doing is within the bounds of the law,” Becerra said. “We are not interested in going rogue.”

He called the decision “despicable” and at one point said he wanted to offer “my apologies” that the administration cannot do more.

The administration has studied, but remain skepticalthe idea of allowing abortion clinics in federal enclaves like military bases and national parks — where state prosecutors have no jurisdiction — in states where abortion is now or will be a crime.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dismissed the idea on Tuesday, telling reporters aboard Air Force One that it could have “dangerous ramifications” for women and doctors.

The problem, according to officials familiar with the internal deliberations, is that the federal government could not guarantee that doctors who are not federal employees performing official duties — and potentially patients — would not risk prosecution.

This is because the Department of Justice has the power to prosecute certain state crimes. If a Republican won the presidency in 2024, his Justice Department could indict people for abortion-related crimes dating back to 2022 because the statute of limitations would not have expired. States could strip doctors of their medical licenses. And state prosecutors could try to charge people for related behavior that took place outside the enclave — like helping women get there — under a theory of complicity. or conspiracy.

Offering financial assistance to women crossing state lines to get abortions could also be problematic for the administration, as it could violate the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortions. , except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger.

When asked on Tuesday whether the Department of Health and Human Services could provide such financial assistance, Becerra said that once officials know “exactly what we think we are able to do and have the money to do it, we’ll let you know. He added: “But until then, what I could just tell you is that all options are on the table.”

In the wake of Friday’s decision, members of Mr Biden’s own party have grown increasingly vocal in demanding he act. On Saturday, more than 30 Democratic members of the Senate sent him a letter telling him there was “no time to lose” and urging him to use “the full force of the federal government” to protect access to abortion care.

“Now is the time to act boldly to protect abortion rights,” they wrote, adding, “You have the power to fight back and lead a national response to this devastating decision.”

One area where the administration can act is to ensure women have access to emergency contraception — including morning-after pills, like Plan B — and intrauterine devices. Both are common methods of contraception, but opponents of abortion consider them “abortifacients” and have attempted in some states to restrict to access.

Some family planning clinics in states that ban abortion say their Plan B supplies have now run out, as women – fearing the pills will be banned – stock up. Hailey Kramer, a nurse practitioner with Tri-Rivers Family Planning in Rolla, Mo., said Monday that the clinic’s provider has been dealing with growing demand and the pills have been out of stock since a planned notice canceling Roe had been leaked last month. .

Missouri is one of 13 states that had “trigger” laws banning abortion after Roe’s overturn; Mr. Becerra was visiting a Planned Parenthood clinic in the state when abortion suddenly became illegal there. Missouri is also one of four states that has excluded Planned Parenthood, a major birth control provider, from Medicaid family planning programs that reimburse for these services.

Planned Parenthood said the move violated federal law. Mr. Becerra said Tuesday that he had asked the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services to “clarify that family planning providers can participate in the Medicaid program.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Biden's health secretary: 'No silver bullet' to preserve access to abortion
Biden's health secretary: 'No silver bullet' to preserve access to abortion
Newsrust - US Top News
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