Boxes of mifepristone medication used for medical abortion are prepared for patients at Planned Parenthood Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama, on March 14, 2022.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
President of the U.S.A Joe Biden will sign a decree on Wednesday to help cover the costs of women heading for abortions, a senior administration official said.
He directs Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to encourage states to write rules so that their state Medicaid plans can cover certain costs for women going to have abortions in states where the procedure remains legal.
But groups like Planned Parenthood have urged the Biden administration to use every emergency power at its disposal to defend access to abortion. The Center for Reproductive Rights specifically urged HHS to use a health emergency law called the PREPARATION Act to allow health care providers in states where abortion remains legal to prescribe and dispense mifepristone for early abortions to women in states with bans.
The Biden administration has considered declaring a public health emergency to protect access to abortion pills, but fears doctors could potentially face prosecution in states that have banned the procedure, a senior administration official said.
The White House has yet to use those powers because officials fear it may not be enough to protect doctors and women in the long run, a senior administration official said.
The act gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services the power to extend legal protection to anyone who manufactures or sells a drug needed to respond to a public health emergency. It was widely used in March 2020 to protect COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers, test manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies such as pfizer which produced therapeutic drugs such as the antiviral Paxlovid. He also defended doctors doing vaccinations and tests.
Under this authority, HHS Secretary Becerra can prescribe an abortion pill, mifepristone, as the medicine needed to avert a health emergency caused by limited access to abortion.. In theory, this would prevent state bans on abortion and make mifepristone available to women in those states, paving the way for early abortions.
“One of the problems with the implementation of the TRAINING Act is that we are concerned that we may not be able to protect women and doctors from liability, including criminal liability. That’s why we haven’t taken such actions yet,” the senior administration told reporters about this on a call.
Legal experts said Republican government officials would immediately sue the administration for using the PREPARATION Act to defend medical abortion, and a federal court could quickly block the action. The issue could eventually end up before the same Conservative-controlled Supreme Court that overturned Roe v. Wade.
Many states banned abortion after the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe’s law. f. Wade also banned doctors from giving abortion drugs, including mifepristone. State bans in most cases make abortion a criminal offense that can lead to many years in prison.
Women who have abortions are generally exempt from prosecution under most state prohibitions, but reproductive rights activists are concerned that Republican government officials will eventually try to prosecute abortion patients as well.
The Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone over 20 years ago as a safe and effective way to terminate a pregnancy before the 10th week. Mifepristone is taken in combination with misoprostol to induce contractions that terminate an early pregnancy.
Medical abortions are becoming an increasingly common abortion procedure in the United States. Mifepristone, used in combination with misoprostol, accounted for more than 50% of abortions in the US in 2020, according to a survey of all known health care providers conducted by the Guttmacher Institute.
In December, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided to permanently remove the requirement for women to receive pills in person, making it easier to dispense pills by mail through telemedicine appointments.
But the patient’s physical location determines which state has telemedicine laws. This means that women in states where abortion is illegal cannot receive telemedicine from providers in states where it is legal.