Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said the administration is willing to do whatever it takes to protect access to the abortion drug mifepristone, after a federal judge in Texas suspended the FDA’s approval of the medication on Friday. As my colleague Madison Pauly reported, the ruling could have “potentially explosive implications for the availability of abortion nationwide, regardless of state laws and policies.” In a conflicting ruling the same day, a federal judge in Washington state ruled that the FDA should not make any changes to access to mifepristone, though it remains unclear what the result of the dueling orders will be.
The Department of Justice filed an appeal immediately after the Texas ruling, and is seeking a stay of the judge’s decision that would allow mifepristone to stay on the market. In interviews Sunday morning with MSNBC and CNN, Becerra emphasized an aggressive legal strategy as essential to maintain access to the pill, which has been proven to be a safe and effective part of medication abortion. “We will make sure that we get that appeal and that stay, and if we can’t get that stay, we will go as far as we need to go in order to protect access to mifepristone,” Becerra told MSNBC Sunday Show host Jonathan Capehart.
Though that sentiment might sound comforting, Becerra didn’t clarify which specific steps, beyond litigation, the administration might be willing to take in the event that the judge’s ruling stands. “You’re asking me to speculate beyond what I should,” Becerra said when Capehart pressed him on any actions he might take. “It’s not speculating,” Capehart responded. “You’re the secretary.”
Both CNN and MSNBC also asked Becerra whether the FDA should ignore the ruling and allow mifepristone to remain on the market, a move that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for on Friday. Becerra told CNN that “everything is on the table,” but wouldn’t commit to a specific course of action, instead emphasizing the steps the DOJ has already taken to overturn the Texas order.
Becerra also said the ruling could have dangerous implications for access to other drugs beyond mifepristone—which was approved by the same FDA process as many other essential medications. He warned that the decision could set a precedent that allows any person with an ideological objection to a medication to file a similar lawsuit. “If you can turn upside down the entire process that the FDA relies on not just for mifepristone, but insulin, vaccines, you name it…you put essentially every drug in America at some form of risk,” he told MSNBC.