What are abortion pills and why are they important?
The FDA first approved mifeprex in 2000 and mifepristone, a generic version, in 2019. The drug, which blocks a hormone called progesterone needed for a viable pregnancy, is usually taken in combination with a drug called misoprostol to terminate a pregnancy in the first 10 weeks. Numerous studies have found the pills to be safe and effective.
Republican lawmakers banned most abortions in about a quarter of the country in the nine months that followed Roe v. Wade was overturned, often threatening abortion doctors with prison. But a recent FDA decision allowing the pill to be mailed and taken at home offered a way around some of those laws and made the pill a major target for abortion advocates and conservative lawmakers.
Can I still get abortion pills?
yes U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kaczmarik, appointed by former President Donald Trump, delayed his ruling for a week, and the Biden administration appealed the decision on Friday.
What was this case really about?
The most important consequences of this decision relate to abortion. But the legal arguments centered on the procedure and whether mifepristone received proper FDA scrutiny more than two decades ago.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group that filed the lawsuit on behalf of providers who oppose abortion, argued that the FDA overstepped its authority when it approved the drug. Their lawyers also argued that a 19th-century law against obscenity, the Comstock Act, prohibited the mailing of any drugs used for abortion.
What did the judge say?
Kacsmaryk ruled that both the original approval of the pills in 2000 and the more recent decision to allow them to be prescribed via telemedicine were illegal.
“The court does not lightly disregard FDA decisions,” he wrote. “But here, the FDA acquiesced to its legitimate safety concerns — in violation of its statutory obligations — based on patently flimsy arguments and studies that did not support its conclusions.” There is also evidence to suggest that the FDA faced significant political pressure to abandon its proposed safety precautions to better achieve the political goal of increased “access” to chemical abortion—which was “the whole mifepristone idea’.
The judge also agreed that mailing the pills likely violated the Comstock Act, writing that the plaintiffs have a “substantial likelihood of prevailing on their claim that the defendants’ decision to allow the distribution of chemical abortion drugs through the mail violates unambiguous federal criminal law”.
Why did the judge allow this to happen 23 years after the drug was approved?
“Simply put, the FDA’s judicial review has been blocked — until now,” Kacsmaryk wrote in his decision. “Prior to plaintiffs filing this case, the FDA ignored their petitions for more than sixteen years, even though the law requires the agency to respond within ‘180 days of receipt of the petition.’ … If the FDA had responded to the plaintiffs’ petitions within the total of 360 allotted days, this case would have been in federal court decades earlier. Instead, the FDA delayed and dragged on for almost 6,000 days.”
How can a federal judge in Amarillo, Texas, ban access in blue states like California and New York?
Kacsmaryk issued a national ban, meaning the ruling will take effect across the country in a week, unless a higher court orders a stay. These types of rulings have become more common over the past 20 years, and judges have used them to stop former President Barack Obama’s plan to offer quasi-legal status to certain undocumented immigrants and former President Donald Trump’s ban on travelers from certain countries. The Justice Department under the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations has argued that the nationwide injunctions are overused and “inconsistent with constitutional limits on judicial power.”
What will happen next?
The Justice Department quickly appealed the decision Friday night to the conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
Kacsmaryk’s decision came on the same day that a federal judge in Washington state ruled that the FDA was imposing overly onerous regulations on mifepristone. That, too, is likely to be appealed to the more liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, and possibly set up dueling district court rulings, putting an abortion pill case on the Supreme Court.