Boxes of the drug mifepristone, used to induce medical abortion, are prepared for patients at the Planned Parenthood Health Center in Birmingham, Alabama, on March 14, 2022.
Evelyn Hawkstein | Reuters
US President Joe Biden will sign an executive order on Wednesday to help cover costs for women traveling to get abortions, a senior administration official said.
He is instructing Health and Human Services Secretary Javier Becerra to encourage states to write rules so that their state Medicaid plans cover some of the costs for women traveling to obtain abortions in states where the procedure remains legal.
But groups like Planned Parenthood have called on the Biden administration to use all emergency powers at its disposal to protect access to abortion. The Center for Reproductive Rights specifically called on HHS to use an emergency health law, called the PrEP Act, to enable health care providers in states where abortions are restricted to women in states. It is legal to prescribe and dispense mifepristone for early abortion.
A senior administration official said the Biden administration has considered declaring a public health emergency to protect access to the abortion pill, but is concerned that physicians could potentially face prosecution in those states. who have banned the process.
The White House has yet to exercise those powers because officials worry it may not be enough to protect physicians and women in the end, a senior administration official said.
The law empowers the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide legal protection to anyone who manufactures or administers a drug necessary to respond to a public health emergency. In March 2020, it was widely used to protect COVID-19 vaccine makers, test makers and pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer that were making therapeutic drugs like the anti-viral Paxlovid. It also protected the physicians administering the shots and tests.
under that right, HHS Secretary Becerra may designate abortion pill, mifepristone as essential drug to prevent health emergency due to low access to abortion, This would, in theory, ban pre-emptive state abortions and make mifepristone available to women in those states, opening the way to early pregnancy abortions.
“One of our concerns about implementing the PrEP Act is that we are concerned that we may not be able to protect women and doctors from liability, including criminalization. So we haven’t taken that action yet,” a The senior administration told reporters on a call.
Legal experts have said Republican state officials would immediately sue the administration for using the PREP Act to protect drug abortions and that a federal court could block the action from taking effect. The issue may eventually end up before the same conservative-controlled Supreme Court that reversed Roe v. Wade.
A number of states have banned abortions in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse the row. v. Wade also barred physicians from administering drugs to terminate pregnancies, which would include mifepristone. In most cases state restrictions make abortion a felony that can carry a prison sentence of up to years.
Women who receive abortions are generally exempt from prosecution under most state restrictions, but reproductive rights activists are concerned that Republican state officials will eventually 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 terminate a pregnancy before the 10th week. Mifepristone is taken with misoprostol to induce contractions that terminate early pregnancy.
As drug abortion has become an increasingly common procedure to terminate pregnancies in the US, mifepristone is used in combination with misoprostol, which is responsible for more than 50% of abortions in the US in 2020, all by the Guttmacher Institute. According to a survey of known providers.
In December, the FDA decided to permanently eliminate the requirement that women receive the pill in person, making it easier to deliver the pill by mail than through telemedicine appointments.
But the patient’s physical location determines which state’s telemedicine laws apply. This means that in states where abortion is banned, women cannot receive the procedure via telemedicine with providers in states where it is legal.