The Biden administration will take steps to help shore up access to medication abortion and protect patients and providers in response to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade on Friday, Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said Tuesday, as Democrats and abortion rights advocates have demanded action from the White House after the court's monumental ruling.
Calling the court's decision "despicable" but not "unpredictable," Becerra said the Department of Health and Human Services will take steps to increase access to medication abortion, including making sure states cannot ban abortion pills because they're protected under federal law for federal programs to provide them in cases of rape, incest and when the mother's life is at risk.
The agency will also provide increased guidance on medication abortion to providers.
Becerra didn't rule out that the White House could sue states that try to ban medication abortion, saying HHS will "certainly assert and defend our legal authorities," but what action it takes will depend on what states do.
Becerra will direct HHS' civil rights office to ensure that privacy and non-discrimination rights for abortion patients and providers are protected.
The department will also work to ensure that the "clinical judgment" of healthcare providers to treat pregnant patients are protected, meaning that it will still be possible for them to perform abortions when it's medically necessary.
The agency will also protect access to family planning methods like IUDs—as birth control access also comes under threat—including ensuring family planning providers are covered under Medicaid to expand access to more underprivileged Americans.
"There is no magic bullet, but if there is something we can do, we will find it and we will do it at HHS," Becerra said Tuesday, saying the agency will "leave no stone unturned."
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, declaring the landmark 1973 ruling "egregiously wrong" and setting off a wave of state-level abortion bans that started taking effect immediately following the decision. The Biden administration has come under heavy pressure to help shore up abortion rights in the absence of Roe—even the executive branch is constrained in impacting state-level issues—and 34 Democratic senators sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Saturday urging him to "take immediate action" and "use the full force of the federal government" to protect abortion access. Biden and other top Democrats have been criticized on the left for responding to the ruling too tepidly and largely focusing on telling Americans to vote if they disagree with the court's decision. "We can't just tell people, 'Well, just vote — vote your problems away,' Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) told the Washington Post . "Because they're looking at us and saying, 'Well, we already voted for you.'"
What We Don't Know
How much the Supreme Court's decision will impact the midterms, as Democratic strategists hope their base's anger over the ruling will help voter turnout. A Morning Consult poll conducted after the ruling came out found the share of Democrats who say they're "very" or "extremely" enthusiastic about voting in November shot up eight percentage points from the week before (from 48% to 56%).
While the Biden administration announced several proposals on Tuesday, it's rejected other steps abortion rights proponents have urged the White House to take, such as allowing abortions on federal lands even in states where the procedure is outlawed. "There's actually dangerous ramifications to doing this," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday, citing the fact that people who aren't federal employees could still potentially be prosecuted under state bans even if the abortions take place on federal property. Biden has also refused calls to expand the Supreme Court and add justices to offset the court's 6-3 conservative tilt.
Frustration, anger rising among Democrats over caution on abortion (Washington Post)
34 Senate Democrats urge Biden to take action on abortion. (New York Times)
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