Jun 28, 2022 - Health

Biden administration unveils "action plan" in response to "despicable" SCOTUS abortion decision

Picture of Xavier Becerra
Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra unveiled an "action plan" Tuesday in response to the Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

The big picture: Becerra said his department will "take steps to increase access" to FDA-approved abortion pills, as red states continue to impose restrictions on them. Experts expect that the next legal battle surrounding abortion will focus on the medication.

  • Becerra said that federal law requires the government to provide abortion pills in certain circumstances, such as to save the life of the pregnant person and in cases of rape or incest.
  • HHS will work with the Justice Department "as they work to ensure that states may not ban medication abortion based on a disagreement with the FDA."

State of play: Becerra called the high court decision "despicable, but not unpredictable" and said he's directing his department's Office for Civil Rights to ensure privacy and non-discrimination for patients seeking reproductive health care, as well as for health care providers who perform abortions.

  • Becerra is also directing officials to examine authorities granted under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, a federal law that forces hospitals to treat medical emergencies without considering if a patient can pay, "to ensure that clinical judgment of doctors and hospitals is supported in treating pregnant patients." He said he is seeking to reaffirm that "abortion care can be appropriate to stabilize patients."
  • HHS will work to ensure that all providers have appropriate training and resources to handle family planning needs, "including administering patient referrals for care and helping patients navigate this new reality."
  • Finally, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will take "every legally available step" to protect family planning care, including access to contraceptives, he said.

HHS also launched a website on Tuesday that provides additional information to the public on what their reproductive rights are.

Between the lines: Becerra said that the administration has "made no decisions" when it comes to the idea of using federal lands to provide abortion care, but he added that "every option is on the table."

  • Asked if HHS plans a legal challenge to state abortion bans, Becerra said that "we will do everything we can to make sure Americans understand what their rights are."
  • He added that if a patient is denied abortion care needed to preserve their life, "we will take action. ... We are intent in protecting people's rights under the law."

What he's saying: Last Friday, "five Americans decided to use the vast power bestowed upon them by our democracy and our constitution to unconscionably put at risk the life and health of millions of our fellow Americans," Becerra said, referring to a majority of justices.

  • "They chose to unconscionably limit, Americans establish freedom and autonomy to control their own body decisions usually made in consultation with their doctor, not a politician. And they chose to unconscionably strip away the fundamental health care protections that every American of childbearing age has known all their lives," he added.
  • "The Supreme Court's decision will result in worse and health outcomes, and death, for some patients."
  • "This is 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, everybody. This is a moment of crisis in health care."

Go deeper: Nearly all abortions are illegal in 8 states but more bans are coming

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