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Health secretary slams abortion pill ruling as ‘not America’

FILE - Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies during the Senate Finance Committee hearing on March 22, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Criticizing a judge's order barring abortion pills, Becerra on Sunday, April 9, blasted the decision as “not America" and pledged a vigorous legal fight by the Biden administration to maintain access for women seeking safe ways to end unwanted pregnancies. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, File)

WASHINGTON — The nation’s top health official said Sunday that a court ruling threatening the availability of a main drug used in medication abortion was “not America” and he did not rule out defying the judge’s order if necessary.

“We want the courts to overturn this reckless decision,” Xavier Becerra, President Joe Biden’s health secretary, told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We want, yes, that women continue to have access to a drug that’s proven itself safe. Millions of women have used this drug around the world.”

He stressed that for now, women do have access to the abortion medication mifepristone after a federal judge in Texas, Donald Trump-appointee Matthew Kacsmaryk, put his ruling from Friday on hold for a week so federal officials could file a challenge. The drug was approved in 2000 by the Food and Drug Administration, which is overseen by the Health and Human Services Department headed by Becerra.

“For America’s sake and for women’s sake, we have to prevail in this,” he said.

Biden has said his administration would fight the Texas ruling. Kacsmaryk’s 67-page order gave the government seven days to appeal.

“We intend to do everything to make sure it’s available to them not just in a week, but moving forward, period, because mifepristone is one of the safest and most effective medicines that we have seen over the last 20 years to help women with their health care, especially abortion care,” Becerra said.

Asked whether he might recommend that the FDA ignore a ban, Becerra said, “Everything is on the table.”

There is uncertainty about access to the most commonly used method of abortion in the United States following two separate and conflicting court rulings in Texas and Washington over the legality of mifepristone.

Kacsmaryk’s decision ordering a hold on federal approval of mifepristone overruled decades of scientific approval. But a ruling at nearly the same time in Washington state from that U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice, a Barack Obama appointee, directed U.S. authorities not to make any changes that would restrict access to the drug in at least 17 states where Democrats sued in an effort to protect availability.

Becerra said Kacsmaryk’s order could have dire ramifications for the legality of any FDA-approved drug, such as vaccines, insulin or new Alzheimer’s drugs coming onto the market because it seeks to “turn upside down” the entire FDA approval process.

The former California attorney general acknowledged a “good chance” that the case will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, which last year overturned Roe v. Wade and curtailed access to abortion across the country.

“If a judge decides to substitute his preference, his personal opinion for that of scientists and medical professionals, what drug isn’t subject to some kind of legal challenge? So we have to go to court,” he said.

Alluding to Kacsmaryk, the Cabinet secretary said: “What you saw by that one judge in that one court, in that one state, that’s not America. America goes by the evidence. America does what’s fair. America does what is transparent and we can show that what we do is for the right reasons.”

Appearing after Becerra on CNN, Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, said “it’s important that we take care of women” and have “real discussions on women’s health care” but “get off the abortion conversation. Women have a whole lot more other issues than just abortion. … Let’s talk about the other things that are happening in this world.”

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