President Joe Biden’s top health official said on Tuesday that “every option is on the table” when it comes to helping women access abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
But the gap between outrage at the ruling and the government’s response seemed as wide as ever. Despite Democrats and activists pushing for swift and drastic policies, Health and Human Services’ Xavier Becerra admitted there is “no panacea” to ensure access to abortion.
For now, he promises that “if there’s anything we can do, we’ll find it and we’ll do it at HHS.”
He said the administration would work to ensure drug abortions remain available, patient privacy is preserved, and family planning care such as emergency contraception is protected.
Biden has not elaborated on his abortion plans since the ruling, which he called “a sad day for the court and the country.” The next day he left for a previously planned trip to international summits in Europe, and he won’t be back until Thursday.
A White House official, who declined to be identified publicly on strategy, said the government would make fighting abortion a priority.
The official said the White House would work to draw opposition between Biden and Republicans, who have made a range of proposals from a nationwide abortion ban to statewide abortion bans without exception for rape or incest, and criminalizing women who have abortions. undergo and the doctors who perform them.
Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said she believes the government is “off to a good start,” but she acknowledged frustrations were seeping in. Some expected faster policy announcements or executive orders from Biden.
And explaining to activists why more progress can’t be made is difficult when Democrats control the White House and Congress, albeit by a wafer-thin Senate margin.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll see more details and more action in the weeks to come,” Timmaraju said.
She said it is important to show voters that the Democrats are not to blame for the destruction of Roe v. Wade.
“We have to turn around and be very clear, who put us in this scandalous situation?” she said. “It was Donald Trump, it was Congressional Republicans.”
Biden has tried to limit expectations for what he can achieve alone.
“The only way we can ensure a woman’s right to choose and the balance in existence is for Congress to restore the protection of Roe v. Wade as a federal law,” he said after the court’s ruling. “No executive action by the president can do that.”
There’s little chance, however, that a deeply divided Senate would take such a move, meaning abortion legislation would hit the same roadblock that has held back so many of Biden’s proposals.
Despite the challenges, the government’s response is still disappointing for some.
“The White House should have been better prepared,” said Lawrence Gostin, head of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health at Georgetown Law. “And that just didn’t happen.”
Becerra indicated that abortion pills would be an important resource for the government’s efforts.
“Medication abortion has been approved by the FDA for years and is safe for patients,” he said.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, more than half of abortions in the US are now done with pills rather than surgery.
The FDA last year lifted a long-standing requirement that women must pick up abortion pills in person. Federal regulations now also allow nationwide mail delivery. Still, 19 states have passed laws requiring a doctor to be physically present when abortion pills are administered to a patient. And more restrictions are expected in Republican-controlled states.
Becerra said federal law requires the provision of drug abortion in cases of rape or incest or to protect the mother’s life. “Now more than ever, it is imperative that all federally supported programs and services comply with the law,” he said.
Becerra said he also wants his department to examine her authority to ensure that the judgment of doctors and hospitals is supported when treating pregnant patients, “including those who experience pregnancy loss or complications and reaffirm that abortion care may be appropriate to patients.” to stabilize.”
Despite the ruling, he said, “rights continue, whether in family planning, or in contraceptive services, and we want to make sure that there are no misunderstandings and that we will enforce any violations of those rights.”
When asked whether the government is considering setting up abortion clinics on federal land, as some Democrats have suggested, Becerra said no decision had been made yet.
“Every option is on the table,” he said. “We will look at everything we can, and everything we do will be in accordance with the law.”
But Karine Jean-Pierre, White House press secretary, told reporters that such an option could put women and health care providers who are not federal employees at risk of prosecution in states where abortion is now illegal.
Jean-Pierre, speaking aboard Air Force One — where Biden flew between summits in Germany and Spain — called that proposal “well-intentioned” but also noted that “it actually has dangerous consequences.”
Becerra was also asked on Tuesday about the prospect of providing transportation to women traveling to another state to have an abortion and how the government would ensure it doesn’t conflict with the Hyde Amendment, which would restrict federal funding for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to protect the mother’s life.
“Once we tell you exactly what we think we can do, have the money to do, we’ll let you know,” he said.
Murphy was reporting from Indianapolis.