U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, left, met with Planned Parenthood officials, state Democratic leaders and members of Connecticut's congressional delegation on Tuesday July 5, 2022. Becerra said President Joe Biden's Administration was considering several executive actions to preserve abortion access throughout the United States. Andrew Brown

President Joe Biden’s health secretary came to Waterbury Tuesday to offer reassurances that the federal government would continue to fight for reproductive rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Xavier Becerra, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told a crowd of reporters outside the Planned Parenthood – Waterbury Health Center that the Biden administration will use all of the powers within the executive branch to assist abortion providers and their patients.

The Supreme Court’s decision to abandon the 50-year-old legal precedent that granted women a constitutional right to an abortion didn’t alter anything in Connecticut. The right to an abortion is still ensconced in Connecticut law.

But in many other states, the court’s opinion has changed the lives and rights of millions of women in just a few short days.

Twenty six states were certain or likely to ban abortion following the Supreme Court ruling, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and others could join that list depending on the outcome of future legislation.

“To everybody in Connecticut, I hope you understand how fortunate you are to have rights, to have freedom, to have that autonomy,” Becerra said. “Unfortunately, as of a week or so ago, not every American can say that.”

“This decision goes beyond abortion. It’s really about who has control: who has control over your life, your body, your future, and who can make decisions for you,” said Amanda Skinner, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, who joined Becerra, Gov. Ned Lamont, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, and others at the podium. Becerra was there at the invitation of Hayes, whose district includes Waterbury.

With a conservative majority in control of the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Senate in a stalemate because of its rules surrounding the filibuster, there is little that Democrats can do in Washington to immediately counter or reverse the court’s decision.

Even so, Becerra and members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation said the Biden administration is doing all it can to boost abortion services in states where access is no longer a guaranteed right.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Becerra said, intends to use its authority via the Food and Drug Administration to make sure that people can continue to access abortion medication through telemedicine services. Those abortion medications, which can be accessed with a prescription and shipped through the mail, are capable of safely terminating a pregnancy up to 10 weeks.

The federal agency is also being pressured by Democratic lawmakers and governors to open up reproductive health care centers on federal lands throughout the country.

That may offer a short term option for some, but Becerra recognized that it might not be a permanent fix, considering the Supreme Court majority’s posture toward abortions and other reproductive rights.

“As you can see from what the Supreme Court did, it took a 50-year-old right and flushed it down the toilet,” Becerra said.

Blumenthal agreed. He called the Supreme Court’s recent rulings “devastating and despicable” and he argued that the long term solution to reinstituting people’s right to an abortion was to elect more pro-choice lawmakers to Congress — specifically the U.S. Senate.

President Biden recently voiced support for suspending the Senate’s filibuster rules in order to break the deadlock in Congress and allow abortion rights to be codified into federal law.

But some Democratic senators, including U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, remain opposed to that plan, making it very unlikely to succeed before the mid term elections.

“We need more pro-choice senators,” Blumenthal said Tuesday. “We need to make this issue a ballot box issue this November.”

Andrew joined CT Mirror as an investigative reporter in July 2021. Prior to moving to Connecticut, Andrew was a reporter at newspapers in North Dakota, West Virginia and most recently South Carolina. He’s covered business, utilities, environmental issues, the opioid crisis, local government and two state legislatures. Do you have a story tip? Reach Andrew at 843-592-9958