Healthcare

Biden health chief stops short of pledging lawsuits to protect abortion pills

Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra answers questions during a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health hearing to discuss the President’s FY 2023 budget for the department on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.
Greg Nash
Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra answers questions during a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health hearing to discuss the President’s FY 2023 budget for the department on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra on Tuesday stopped short of saying the Biden administration would sue in a bid to stop states from banning abortion pills, saying the details are still being worked out on actions on that front.

“We will certainly assert and defend our legal authorities,” Becerra told reporters at a press conference, when asked about filing lawsuits through the Department of Justice. 

“What exactly that translates into depends on what a state tries to do,” he added. 

When pressed by a reporter about conservative states that have already put into effect sweeping abortion bans that include bans on abortion pills, Becerra said the department had to “investigate and then enforce.”

“We have to make sure we collect the evidence but we are intent on protecting people’s rights under the law,” he said.

Protecting access to abortion pills is seen as one of the main ways that the Biden administration can seek to protect abortion access in conservative states that are enacting bans on the medical procedure. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement on Friday that “states may not ban” abortion pills, known as mifepristone, because they are approved by the Food and Drug Administration on a federal level. But he also stopped short of saying how the administration would ensure continued access to the pills.

Legal experts say it is not fully settled whether a state may ban an FDA-approved drug. 

Asked on Tuesday if it is the administration’s position that any doctor in any state may prescribe abortion pills, even in states with bans, Becerra also stopped short of a direct answer. 

He said the pills are FDA approved and “available for prescription.”

“What I won’t do in answering your question is tell you what precisely that means because I want to, as I said before, we’re going to stay within the confines of the law,” he added.

The pills are “available to be prescribed, under what conditions, stay tuned,” he said. 

Becerra’s press conference comes as many Democrats are pressing the Biden administration for a more forceful response to protect abortion access through executive action. 

The health secretary, though, said the effort “takes a little time,” because officials need to make sure they are following the law in their actions. 

“We’re not interested in going rogue,” he said. 

He repeatedly stressed that all options remain on the table as officials review the response, but said “there is no magic bullet.”

Becerra announced a website with information for the public, reproductiverights.gov.

He also announced some steps like the department’s Office of Civil Rights working to protect patient privacy for those seeking abortions, and a direction to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to take “every legally available step” to protect access to contraceptives.

Tags Abortion abortion pill Biden HHS Merrick Garland Roe v. Wade Supreme Court Xavier Becerra Xavier Becerra
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