North Carolina lawmakers are stepping in to defend restrictions

Boxes of the drug mifepristone, used to induce a medical abortion, are prepared for patients at the Planned Parenthood Health Center in Birmingham, Alabama March 14, 2022.

Evelyn Hockstein Reuters

A federal judge on Friday allowed North Carolina lawmakers to defend restrictions on the abortion pill mifepristone after the attorney general’s denial.

dr Amy Bryant, a North Carolina doctor, sued the state in January to block its restrictions on mifepristone because they go beyond Food and Drug Administration regulations.

Attorney General Joshua Stein, a Democrat, agreed with Bryant and declined to defend state restrictions on mifepristone. Stein told North Carolina lawmakers the FDA has found restrictions like North Carolina’s put undue strain on patient access to a safe and effective drug.

North Carolina Senate President Philip Berger and House Speaker Timothy Moore intervened to defend the state’s laws. North Carolina has split the government. The state legislature has a Republican majority and Governor Roy Cooper is a Democrat.

The ordering judge gave lawmakers until March 24 to respond to Bryant’s lawsuit.

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Berger and Moore argued that the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in June that gave states the power to regulate abortion. Blocking North Carolina’s restrictions on mifepristone would usurp lawmakers’ power, they said.

The abortion pill has become a central focus in the battle for access to abortion since the Supreme Court overthrew Roe. The North Carolina case is one of several lawsuits evaluating whether FDA regulations or state law will govern the administration of mifepristone.

The FDA significantly eased federal restrictions on mifepristone in January. The agency permanently ended a requirement that patients must receive the drug in person from a certified provider.

The FDA also allowed retail pharmacies to dispense the pill as long as they were certified under a government oversight program. Patients need a prescription from a certified healthcare provider to have a medical abortion.

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The FDA changes allow patients to receive the prescription through a telemedicine provider and have the drug mailed to them.

North Carolina’s laws are more restrictive than those of the FDA. The state requires patients to receive mifepristone in person from a doctor at a specially certified facility. The doctor must be physically present when the patient is taking mifepristone. Women must also wait 72 hours after signing an informed consent form before the doctor can administer the pill.

Mifepristone, used in combination with misoprostol, is the most common method of abortion in the United States, accounting for about half of all abortions.

Anti-abortion doctors in Texas have asked a federal judge to order the FDA to withdraw its more than two-decade-old approval of the abortion pill. One of the pill makers, GenBioPro, has sued West Virginia to overturn its ban on abortion.

Democratic attorneys general have asked a Washington state judge to rule the remaining FDA restrictions on mifepristone unconstitutional.

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