Biden's health secretary tells reporters 'there is no magic bullet' on abortion

Becerra's action plan so far mostly enforces existing protections.

June 28, 2022, 4:03 PM

Health Secretary Xavier Becerra told reporters Tuesday that there’s no “magic bullet” that could restore Americans’ constitutional right to abortion, but said the administration was still working with its top legal advisers to explore every option, including ways to increase access to medication abortion.

“Stay tuned,” he said.

Becerra has announced several steps aimed at protecting existing protections for women, including ensuring that pregnant patients can get emergency medical care and safeguarding patient privacy. In his remarks, Becerra also noted that federal law allows for abortions through its Medicaid program in cases of rape and incest -- a standard at odds with states like Arkansas.

The actions though were not expected to open abortion access to most women in states that have banned it.

Becerra acknowledged as much, saying there's no "magic bullet" that could restore Americans' constitutional right to abortion but that he was working with its top legal advisers to explore every option.

When pressed by ABC Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce on why he didn't have more concrete proposals if the ruling was predictable, Becerra noted that he wanted to ensure the administration was on firm legal ground.

PHOTO: Health and Human Services Secretary Xaviar Becerra holds a news conference to unveil the Biden administration's action plan following the overturning of Roe v Wade, at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, June 28, 2022.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xaviar Becerra holds a news conference to unveil the Biden administration's action plan following the overturning of Roe v Wade, at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, June 28, 2022.
Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

"We're not interested in going rogue and doing things just because we want to make sure what we tell Americans is accurate -- because we hear, we know, a lot Americans are hearing a lot of inaccurate information," Becerra replied. "And so to every American who's impacted: My apologies that, I as I said, we can't tell you there's a silver bullet. But what I am saying to you is that the more we dig, we will do everything we can with what we find to make sure we're protecting women's reproductive health care services. It takes a little time because we want to do it right, and we want to do it according to the law."

Becerra's comments are likely to be a steep disappointment for progressives after he promised to take action in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.

"How we respond will speak to how we view the rights, the dignity and the well-being of women everywhere," he said, before taking questions from reporters. "At HHS, we will leave no stone unturned."

Abortion rights groups have also pitched a variety of options for the federal government to take.

One option presented was to declare a public health emergency to free up federal funds, possibly to use for transportation, an idea supported by members of the Congressional Black Caucus. But this approach would likely be challenged in court as a violation of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funds to cover almost all abortions. Becerra did say whether he would try to help women leave a state if they wanted an abortion.

While some Democrats have urged the administration to look into whether reproductive health services could be provided on federal lands or on federal property, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre shot down the idea Tuesday, saying anyone who is not a federal employee who utilized such facilities could be subject to prosecution under some state laws.

"We understand the proposal as well the intention but here's the thing, it could actually put women and providers at risk," she said.

Another idea is to loosen restrictions on the abortion pill so that it can be picked up at pharmacies. Currently, only registered clinicians can prescribe it and mail it. Pharmacies are not part of that network, which would require FDA regulatory action.

PHOTO: Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies before a House Committee on Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on Capitol Hill, April 27, 2022, in Washington.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies before a House Committee on Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on Capitol Hill, April 27, 2022, in Washington.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images, FILE

"Federal law requires our programs to provide medication abortion in certain circumstances, such as the life of the woman rate, or instance," Becerra said Tuesday. "Now more than ever, it is imperative that all federally supported programs and services are complying with the law."

While telehealth medicine is allowable under federal rules, it's not a loophole to circumvent state restrictions -- which Becerra acknowledged.

Asked about possible ways to help with transportation for women who may need to travel to another state to get an abortion, as Becerra hinted the administration was looking into on Monday, he said, "Once we tell you exactly what we believe we are able to do, have the money to do, we will let you know, but until then, what I can simply say to you is every option is on the table."

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