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HHS secretary details department’s efforts to protect reproductive health care

“The impact was visible and real,” said Xavier Becerra, secretary of the US Department for Health and Human Services during a press conference Tuesday.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra held a press conference today to share the department’s plans as the shifting landscape of abortion care unfolds in courthouses nationwide.1

During the conference, Becerra detailed how the department will safeguard access to medication abortion and protect the safety of women traveling out of state for abortion care. The conference was held in response to President Joe Biden’s directive on Friday that called on the HHS to act following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade.2

Becerra began the press conference with a reminder that federal law requires government programs to provide medication abortion in limited cases (life of the mother, rape, or incest), emphasizing that government agencies must continue providing these services.

He directed the Office of Civil Rights to protect privacy and nondiscrimination for patients seeking abortion care and for providers.

The HHS, said Becerra, will examine its authority under the Emergency Medical Treatment Act to ensure that clinical judgement of hospitals and abortion care providers is supported. All agencies within HHS will also make sure that abortion care providers—including pharmacists and clinicians—have adequate training and resources to address family planning needs, such as referrals and patient education.

“Health care is a matter to be decided by patients and their providers, not politicians,” Becerra said as he urged the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to pursue every legally available step to safeguard family planning care and access to contraception.

HHS plans to issue guidance to providers regarding medication abortion and will work with the Attorney General and the Justice Department to prohibit states from banning it.

Becerra visited a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, on Friday morning when the decision was announced, where he witnessed the clinic director turning away patients almost immediately. “People in the room were visibly shaken, there were tears and an unshakeable sense of sadness,” he said.

Across state lines in Illinois, abortion care was still legal. “It was shocking that, in the United States of America, a short drive can make such a dire and draconian difference in health care outcomes,” he said. “The impact was visible and real.”

“We will do everything within the legal limit of the law to reach patients and support providers,” Becerra said as the conference concluded. “I stand with you, and I have your back.”

References

  1. Remarks by President Biden on the Supreme Court Decision to Overturn Roe v. Wade | The White House. The White House. Published June 24, 2022. Accessed June 28, 2022. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/06/24/remarks-by-president-biden-on-the-supreme-court-decision-to-overturn-roe-v-wade/
  2. Remarks by Secretary Xavier Becerra at the Press Conference in Response to President Biden’s Directive following Overturning of Roe v. Wade. HHS.gov. Published June 28, 2022. Accessed June 28, 2022. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2022/06/28/remarks-by-secretary-xavier-becerra-at-the-press-conference-in-response-to-president-bidens-directive-following-overturning-of-roe-v-wade.html