Boxes of mifepristone medication used to induce medical abortion are prepared for patients at Planned Parenthood Health Center in Birmingham, Alabama on March 14, 2022.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
The American President Joe Biden will sign an executive order on Wednesday to help defray the costs of women traveling for abortions, a senior administration official said.
He’s asking Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to encourage states to write rules so their state Medicaid plans can cover some costs for women traveling for abortions in states where the procedure remains legal.
But groups such as Planned Parenthood have called on the Biden administration to use every emergency power at its disposal to protect abortion access. The Center for Reproductive Rights specifically asked HHS to use an emergency health law, called the PREP Act, to allow health care providers in states where abortion remains legal to prescribe and dispense mifepristone for early abortions for women in prohibiting states.
The Biden administration has considered declaring a public health emergency to protect access to the abortion pill, but it fears doctors could potentially be sued in states that have banned the procedure, a senior government official said. administration.
The White House has yet to use those powers because officials fear it won’t be enough to protect doctors and women in the end, a senior administration official said.
The law gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services the power to extend legal protections to anyone who manufactures or administers a drug needed to respond to a public health emergency. It was widely used in March 2020 to protect Covid-19 vaccine makers, test makers and pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer that made therapeutic drugs like the antiviral Paxlovid. He also protected the doctors administering the injections and tests.
Under this authority, HHS Secretary Becerra could designate the abortion pill, mifepristone, as the drug needed to prevent a health emergency caused by reduced access to abortion. This would, in theory, preempt state abortion bans and make mifepristone available to women in those states, paving the way for early abortions.
“One of the concerns we have about invoking the PREP Act is that we are concerned that we will not be able to protect women and doctors from liability, including criminalization. That is why we do not haven’t taken that action yet,” a senior administration told reporters on a call.
Legal experts said Republican state officials would immediately sue the administration for using the PREP law to protect medical abortion and that a federal court could quickly block the action from taking effect. The issue could ultimately end up in the same conservative-controlled Supreme Court that overturned Roe v. Wade.
Many states have banned abortion following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe. v. Wade also banned doctors from administering drugs to terminate a pregnancy, which would include mifepristone. State prohibitions in most cases make performing an abortion a crime that can result in prison sentences of several years.
Women who have abortions are generally exempt from prosecution under most state bans, but reproductive rights activists fear Republican state officials may ultimately try to prosecute patients who also receive the procedure. .
The Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone more than 20 years ago as a safe and effective way to end a pregnancy before the 10th week. Mifepristone is taken in conjunction with misoprostol to induce contractions that end early pregnancies.
Medical abortions have become an increasingly common procedure for terminating pregnancies in the United States. Mifepristone used in conjunction with misoprostol accounted for more than 50% of abortions in the United States in 2020, according to a survey of all known providers by the Guttmacher Institute.
In December, the FDA decided to permanently lift the requirement for women to obtain the pill in person, making it easier to distribute the pill by mail through telemedicine appointments.
But the patient’s physical location determines which state telemedicine laws apply. This means that women in states where abortion has been banned cannot receive the procedure via telemedicine with providers in states where it is legal.