A federal judge in Amarillo, Texas recently heard arguments in a lawsuit against the FDA over their decision more than 20 years ago to approve the widely used abortion pill mifepristone. Mifepristone is a drug that was approved by the FDA in 2000 for use in combination with a second pill to terminate first-trimester pregnancies. It has been used by about 5 million people since then, and 98% of abortions done with medication involve mifepristone. The drug has a strong safety record, according to major medical groups like the American Medical Association. However, it has been the subject of political debate because it is an abortion pill.
Lawsuit against approval of abortion pill Mifepristone
The lawsuit against the FDA was brought by the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, a coalition of anti-abortion groups and doctors who are challenging the FDA’s approval of the drug and seeking to take it off the market. If successful, the lawsuit would have significant ripple effects for both patients and doctors who have been relying on the drug for most abortions in the United States.
The judge in the case, Matthew Kacsmaryk, has a long and consistent track record of alliances with conservative groups and has tended to rule in favor of conservative causes. The lawsuit challenges the FDA’s approval process, and there was a lot of discussion about the particulars of that process in the hearing. The plaintiffs argued that the doctors they represent, who have deeply held opposition to abortion, are being harmed by the widespread availability of these drugs because women sometimes need follow-up care after a medication abortion. Their argument is that this is both at odds with the deeply held beliefs of these doctors and taking time and resources away from their normal practice.
Drug could be removed limiting access
Moreover, if the judge rules in favor of the plaintiffs and orders the drug to be removed, it is unclear what that would look like and what the implications would be for access to the drug. Lawyers for the defense have already indicated that they would immediately appeal the decision if the judge were to overturn the approval or try to take the drug off the market, so the case could end up at the Supreme Court.
There is another lawsuit filed by several attorneys general from blue states that challenges the FDA’s restrictions on the drug, saying that they make it too hard to get. This case could also end up at the Supreme Court, leading to dueling federal rulings.
While the anti-abortion movement is still very active and engaged in litigation and legislative efforts, they also seem to be trying to retool their message a little bit. Some segments of the movement are talking more about helping women, helping families, and supporting policies that Medicaid expansion during the postpartum period. Republican strategists are aware that they need to walk a careful line in how they talk about this issue, as banning abortion or taking all abortion pills off the market is not in line with what most voters want. Mifepristone is approved for use up to 10 weeks, within the first trimester, which is a period of time that most Americans believe abortion should be a woman’s decision.