Democratic and Republican attorneys general faced off Friday over an anti-abortion attempt to take the abortion pill mifepristone off the US market.
New York led a coalition of 22 state attorneys general who argued that going off the pill would have “devastating consequences” for women. Mississippi led 22 Republican attorneys general who argued that the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone was “deeply flawed.”
The dueling arguments are part of an escalating Texas federal court battle over a lawsuit filed by anti-abortion advocates last November seeking to overturn the FDA’s more than two-decade-old approval of mifepristone.
When combined with misoprostol, mifepristone is the most common method of abortion in the United States, accounting for about half of all abortions.
Abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America said in an analysis released Friday that 40 million women would lose access to the abortion pill if the court overturned the FDA’s approval.
The New York-led coalition argued that repealing FDA approval would make the pill largely inaccessible, forcing women to either undergo more invasive surgery or forego an abortion altogether.
Surgical abortions are more expensive and more difficult to obtain, they argued, which would disproportionately affect women on lower incomes, underserved women or women living in rural communities where there may not be access to a clinic.
“It would be devastating,” said Attorney General Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who is presiding over the case in the US District Court in North Texas.
The Mississippi-led coalition backed the anti-abortion doctors’ claims and called the FDA’s actions on mifepristone “deeply flawed.”
“For two decades, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has worked to establish a statewide regime of on-demand abortion by authorizing widespread access to chemical abortion drugs – in violation of federal and state laws protecting life, health and security,” said Republican attorneys general argued.
Later Friday, 67 Republican congressmen filed a brief calling the FDA’s approval of mifepristone “unlawful” and arguing it should be overturned. They claimed that the agency’s actions had undermined Congressional protections for patients. However, the FDA has had regulations monitoring the safety of mifepristone for years, which it has gradually relaxed as more evidence came in.
The FDA called the lawsuit “extraordinary and unprecedented” in its response last month. Lawyers for the agency said they could not find any previous example of a court guessing after the fact of an FDA decision approving a drug.
The FDA has approved mifepristone as a safe and effective method of terminating an early pregnancy based on extensive scientific evidence, the agency’s attorneys wrote. Decades of experience of thousands of women have confirmed that drug therapy is safer than surgical abortion or childbirth, the lawyers argued.
Kacsmaryk extended an important deadline in the case on Thursday. He directed one of the abortion pill makers, Danco Laboratories, to fight the lawsuit. The anti-abortion advocates who brought the case then have until February 24 to respond.
“Forcing the FDA to withdraw a long-standing approval would upset the government’s agency of determining whether drugs are safe and effective and would directly and immediately harm Danco by shutting down its business,” attorneys for Danco Laboratories said in court Friday.
Mifepristone has become a central issue in the battle for access to abortion since the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade lifted last June.
The FDA changed its rules last month to allow certified retail pharmacies to dispense mifepristone. CV And Walgreensthe country’s two largest drugstore chains, have said they will be certified to dispense prescription drugs in states where it’s legal.
Republican attorneys general have warned companies not to mail the pill in their states, saying they would face legal action.
There are also lawsuits aimed at overturning government restrictions on mifepristone on the grounds that they conflict with FDA regulations. GenBioPro, the other abortion pill maker, is suing to get West Virginia’s ban overturned. A doctor in North Carolina questions that state’s restrictions.
The New York-led coalition of attorney generals arguing to keep mifepristone on the market includes: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico , North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington, Wisconsin and Washington, DC
The Mississippi-led coalition arguing against FDA approval of mifepristone includes: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina , South Dakota, Tennessee , Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
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