Before taking the big job as PBS News Hour co-host this year, Amna Nawaz made her strong abortion-rights views known in an interview with the feminist news site The 19th:
Nawaz introduced a segment on the legal controversy over access to the abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol Wednesday evening and made her views clear, PBS’s supposed commitment to “objectivity” notwithstanding. (The Supreme Court intervened in the pill access issue on Friday, temporarily paused the lower court order that had restricted the abortion pill, preserving access.)
She talked to Jennifer Klein, director of the White House Gender Policy Council — whatever that is. Nawaz questioned why the Biden administration hadn’t moved sooner:
Nawaz chided the Biden Administration from the left on behalf of “progressive Democrats,” for being too passive in protecting abortion access at all costs.
7:13 p.m. (ET)
The recent dueling court decisions on the use of the abortion pill mifepristone have ignited a new debate over women’s health. And, with future access in limbo, some states are stockpiling the medication.
But the Biden administration has asked an appeals court to overturn the controversial Texas ruling to suspend the FDA’s approval of the drug. That decision is expected as early as this week.
Jennifer Klein is the director of the White House Gender Policy Council. She joins us now.
Jen, welcome back to the “NewsHour,” and thanks for joining us.
I want to begin with the administration’s announcement today on strengthening privacy protections under HIPAA. Explain to us what you have been seeing in the anti-abortion movement that says this move was necessary now.
Jennifer Klein, Director, The Gender Policy Council:
So, one of the things that we have been seeing is that states are moving to criminalize mostly health care providers.
And what this regulation would do — today, the Department of Health and Human Services put out a notice of proposed rulemaking. So there’s a chance for comment, and then the rule would ultimately be finalized. And what that would do is protect sensitive health information under what’s called HIPAA — that’s the federal law at issue — so that while there are exceptions for law enforcement, there would not — we would narrow that exception for law enforcement for illegal reproductive health care.
So, for example, you have seen women traveling out of state from one state where abortion is banned to another state where it’s legal. And the legal, lawful health care that she got in the state that she traveled to, her health information, the discussion she has with her doctors, the care that she receives in that state where the care is lawful would not be available to law enforcement if — just when this rule is made final.
Jen, this idea was raised a few months ago. A number of senators sent a letter to President Biden in September of last year, asking him to use HIPAA in this way. Could this have been done sooner?
Well, initially, the Department of Health and Human Services put out guidance very early on to make clear what the protections are under HIPAA.
And we were waiting to see that, if this continued to happen, and if we saw states passing laws that would criminalize health care, lawful health care, we were ready to take action. And that’s what the Department of Health and Human Services did today.
I know we’re awaiting the next step from the appeals court when it comes to the Texas judge’s ruling on mifepristone. But there are already some advocates and some Democrats even saying that ruling was unfounded, and the administration should just ignore it.
Do you think you should do that?
Well, you know what? This case in Texas, this decision in Texas is dangerous.
But the Department of Justice feels that it is also dangerous to ignore a binding legal decision. But what is really at issue here is that we now have two cases. We have the case in Texas, which would — if it stood, would be a nationwide injunction that would prevent mifepristone from being available across the country.
But we also have a case in Washington, which is proceeding. And, in fact, the Department of Justice filed a motion for clarification to better understand how those two court cases would interact. So, we’re using the courts. We’re confident we — that we have both the law and the facts on our side and that we will prevail in getting a stay and ultimately succeeding in these cases.
If that legal process does not go your way, though, what’s the plan? Could you be stockpiling medication? Are there other lawsuits you could be filing now?
Several states have begun stockpiling piling medication.
But the governor of Connecticut said it well today. If the drug is illegal, stockpiling it doesn’t actually help. So, as I said, we are pursuing an aggressive court strategy, and we believe that we will prevail, and that is the answer in this — in this case.
What about misoprostol? I mean, that’s the other drug in this two- drug protocol. This ruling applies to mifepristone. Is there anything else you could be doing now to protect future access to misoprostol?
Well, at the moment, this case in Texas does not actually speak to misoprostol. So, that — it’s really good for your viewers to understand that misoprostol still remains available. It is — can be safely used.
But, Jen, if I may, are you anticipating that could be challenged as well? Is there anything you can do to preemptively protect access to it?
There’s nothing to do preemptively.
But, again, I think that we don’t see any reason for a very legal drug to be challenged in court. Misoprostol has a lot of uses. And, again, we have — we have seen something egregious happen in Texas, so we will be prepared for anything. But we don’t — we don’t see that as a concern, at the moment, anyway.
The reason I ask is, it gets to a larger frustration I have heard from some advocates and even some progressive Democrats I speak to, this frustration the administration has moved slowly or not been as creative or aggressive as they’d like to see.
Their argument is, the urgency of this moment requires the administration to meet that moment, that go ahead and get caught trying, in other words. What would you say to that?
I think we have.
I think this case is as a perfect example of getting caught trying. We — the president spoke immediately after the Dobbs decision. He issued two executive orders to ensure access to abortion, to contraception. We have made efforts to protect patient privacy. We’re protecting the physical safety and security of patients, health care providers, pharmacies.
This administration has worked quickly and aggressively. I just this afternoon left on the third meeting of the task force that is designed to bring everyone across the government together. We heard from the attorney general about the litigation strategy and other things the Department of Justice is doing.
We heard from the secretary of Health and Human Services about this announcement on privacy, but also other things. The Department of Education is acting, the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs. I think that, really, any insinuation that we have not worked — acted quickly, decisively and aggressively is just not fair.