Regulatory policy

HHS takes action to maintain access to medical abortion

Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, reproductive health organizations and contraceptive service providers have been scrambling to chart a way forward. But the federal government itself has taken steps to ensure access to medication, abortion and contraception, even though some states have already begun banning or restricting these options.

This week, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, promised that the agency would work to ensure that women would continue to have access to medical abortion, even in states that completely ban abortion. abortion.

“Medical abortion has been approved by the FDA for years and is safe for patients,” Becerra said at a press conference. “It’s the gold standard of care when someone is pregnant and miscarries, which is all too real for many expectant mothers across the country.

“The Supreme Court’s decision will lead to a worsening of the state of health and the death of some patients. Working to increase access to this medicine is a national imperative and in the public interest,” he continued.

To that end, HHS this week launched ReproductiveRights.gov. The website describes what patient rights to birth control and abortion services look like in the post-Roe world.

In the “Right to Access Abortion Services” section, the website explains that medical abortion has been approved by the FDA since 2000. Federal regulations allow these drugs to be dispensed through telehealth services and sent by mail via certain pharmacies; a generic maker of an abortifacient drug has already announced that it will take legal action and fight for access to the drugs in all states.

Becerra outlined several other steps the federal government could take to ensure access to medical abortion.

“Federal law requires our programs to provide medical abortion under certain circumstances, such as life of the woman, rape or incest,” Becerra said at the press conference. “Now more than ever, it is important that all federally supported programs and services comply with the law.

Earlier this week, Attorney General Merrick Garland made this point. He noted that states cannot ban mifepristone, an FDA-approved drug used to terminate early pregnancy. It’s unclear, however, to what extent the federal government will be able to increase access to the pills beyond the “exceptional circumstances” of rape, incest or risk to the mother’s life.

During the conference, Becerra said he plans to lead the HHS Office of Civil Rights to ensure confidentiality and non-discrimination for patients seeking reproductive health care. He also said the agency would aim to “review its authority” under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. This would require hospitals to provide the emergency care needed to treat pregnant women.

Finally, Becerra called for increased training of doctors and medical staff to prepare them for the task at hand.

“I call on CMS to take all legally available steps to protect family planning care,” Becerra stressed. “Health care is a matter to be decided by patients and their providers.”

The HHS action plan comes as some congressional Democrats and abortion supporters criticize the Biden administration for being unprepared to respond to Roe’s overthrow. They continue to call on the federal government to be more aggressive in preserving medical abortion rights.