Abortion Pill's Fate Uncertain as Judges Face Off

Texas' Kacsmaryk orders hold on mifepristone access, Washington's Rice orders the opposite
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 8, 2023 5:30 AM CDT
2 Competing Rulings Leave Abortion Pill's Fate Up in the Air
Boxes of the drug mifepristone sit on a shelf at the West Alabama Women's Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on March 16, 2022.   (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed, File)

Access to the most commonly used method of abortion in the US plunged into uncertainty Friday following conflicting court rulings over the legality of the abortion medication mifepristone that has been widely available for more than 20 years. For now, the drug that the Food and Drug Administration approved in 2000 appeared to remain at least immediately available in the wake of two separate rulings that were issued in quick succession by federal judges in Texas and Washington, per the AP. Texas US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee, ordered a hold on federal approval of mifepristone in a decision that overruled decades of scientific approval. But that decision came at nearly the same time that US District Judge Thomas O. Rice, an Obama appointee, essentially ordered the opposite.

Rice directed US authorities not to make any changes that would restrict access to the drug in at least 17 states where Democrats sued to protect availability. The extraordinary timing of the competing orders revealed the high stakes around the drug almost a year after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and curtailed access to abortion across the nation. The whiplash of the conflicting decisions is likely to put the issue on an accelerated path to the Supreme Court. The abortion drug has been widely used in the US since securing FDA approval, and there's essentially no precedent for a lone judge overruling the medical decisions of the FDA. Kacsmaryk signed an injunction directing the FDA to stay mifepristone's approval while a lawsuit challenging the safety and approval of the drug continues. His 67-page order gave the government seven days to appeal.

"If this ruling were to stand, then there will be virtually no prescription approved by the FDA that would be safe from these kinds of political, ideological attacks," President Biden, who notes that his administration will fight the Texas ruling, said. Mifepristone is one of two drugs used for medication abortion in the US, along with misoprostol. It's has been used by millions of women over the past 23 years, and complications from mifepristone occur at a lower rate than that seen with wisdom teeth removal, colonoscopies, and other routine medical procedures, medical groups have noted. Clinics and doctors that prescribe the two-drug combination have said if mifepristone is pulled from the market, they'd switch to using only misoprostol. That single-drug approach has a slightly lower rate of effectiveness in ending pregnancies, but it's widely used in nations where mifepristone is illegal or unavailable. Much more here.

(More mifepristone stories.)

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