Amarillo Judge’s Ruling Could Lead to Nationwide Ban on Abortion Pills

Supreme Court may be the next step


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U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk last week struck another blow against reproductive freedom in the United States, ruling that the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the abortion-inducing drug mifepristone was unlawful. More than half of abortions in the U.S. are done with pills, and nearly two-thirds of Americans believe medication abortion should remain legal.

On the same day as Kacsmaryk handed down his ruling, a federal judge in Wash­ing­ton State ruled that the FDA must keep the drug available in Washington, D.C., and 17 blue states that sued over the issue – raising the odds that the future of mifepristone will, sooner rather than later, be decided by a conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court facing questions about its legitimacy.

While a ban on mifepristone would have an outsized effect on states where medication abortion is legal and abortion is more broadly protected by law, it would also vastly restrict the thousands of Texans seeking legal abortion care in those states. Of course, mifepristone can still be ordered from international pharmacies, and Texans cannot currently be punished in civil or criminal court for seeking out their own abortion (helping another person attain an abortion is what's banned).

"Less than a year after Dobbs, where we saw our freedom tossed back to the states, we are now seeing the first strike at a national ban on abortion," Morgan Hopkins, president of the abortion justice organization All* Above All, said at a press conference on Monday. "Attempting to ban mifepristone nationally is one step toward the anti-abortion movement's goal of banning all abortion in every state."

Kacsmaryk, an appointee of former Pres­i­dent Donald Trump and longtime member of the Federalist Society, did not get the mifepristone case by accident. Abortion opponents brought the case in Amarillo, in a state where medical abortion is already outlawed, specifically so Kacsmaryk could rule on it. His ideological background was not lost on abortion rights leaders who spoke at the Monday press conference. Mini Tim­mar­aju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, noted that the judge's rejection of the word "fetus" in his opinion is connected to a broader attempt to define fetuses as people and limit reproductive freedom. "He's signaling efforts to go after birth control, [in vitro fertilization], other procedures that we know these organizations have been after for decades," Timmaraju said. "This is where we can see this rhetoric around so-called personhood creeping into the opinion."

The case could also have significant impacts on the drug approval process outside the realm of reproductive rights. "Under Judge Kacsmaryk's ruling here, virtually anybody who opposes an FDA-approved drug could drag the agency into court [and] could challenge their decision," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "The decision would also be destabilizing for the research and development of new drugs." Northup said the ruling, if upheld, could imperil the FDA's accelerated approval process for drugs to treat life-threatening conditions including cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and a range of vaccines.

Leaders of organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights remain focused on eventually winning in court, but a number of Democrats, including Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Rep. Alexan­d­ria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), are urging the FDA to ignore Kacsmaryk's ruling entirely.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

abortion, mifepristone, PLanned Paretnhood, Matthew Kacsmaryk

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