UNITED STATES: The long-standing approval of mifepristone, a common abortion medicine, has been put on hold by a federal judge in Texas appointed by Trump. But an hour later, an Obama-appointed judge in Washington State delivered a competing ruling, mandating the preservation of access to medicine in 17 states.
The pill, which is used in the majority of abortions, has been legal for more than 20 years. Due to the different court orders, the issue will probably end up in front of the US Supreme Court.
In a 67-page ruling, a judge in Amarillo, Texas, stopped the FDA from approving mifepristone. The decision won’t take effect for another week to give the administration time to file an appeal.
On Friday night, the US Department of Justice announced that it would appeal the Texas decision. The decision of Judge Kacsmaryk may restrict the drug’s availability to millions of US women. Experts in the law said that the decision is a serious threat to the stability of the whole American system for regulating drugs.
It comes after a surge of state-by-state restrictions was sparked last year after the Supreme Court struck down constitutional protections for abortion.
Anti-abortion organisations claimed in a lawsuit that the drug’s safety was never adequately studied.
In his decision, Judge Kacsmaryk stated that the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval had broken federal regulations that permit the rapid approval of some pharmaceuticals. Before mifepristone was authorised in 2000, the FDA examined it for four years.
The judge said that the FDA had overlooked the “psychological effects” of mifepristone and its track record for safety.
His legal judgement added, “The FDA’s failure [to account for this] should not be overlooked or understated.” Mifepristone is considered safe for use by the FDA, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG), and other well-known medical organisations.
Allison Whelan, an assistant professor at Georgia State University College of Law, says that the ruling is “inflammatory” because it talks about “unborn humans” instead of “foetuses” and says that FDA permission should be kept.
“The politics and ideology motivating Judge Kacsmaryk’s decision could not be made any clearer by the inflammatory anti-abortion language used throughout the opinion,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Texas decision was hailed as “a significant victory” for women and doctors by Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group that backed the lawsuit’s plaintiffs.
It was lauded as “a major step forward for women and girls” by Jeanne Mancini, president of another anti-abortion organisation, March for Life.
But an hour after the Texas decision, a different federal judge, this one in Washington state, issued a similar 31-page injunction on a different case, directing the FDA to keep the medicine on the market in the Democratic-run states that initiated the lawsuit.
The counter-ruling was described as a “huge win” by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, denounced the Texas decision in a tweet, writing, “We can’t let one right-wing extremist overrule women, their doctors, and the scientists.”
Mifepristone, one of the two drugs used to start an abortion, ends the pregnancy. Misoprostol, the other drug, empties the uterus.
It was initially authorised for the termination of pregnancies up to seven weeks gestation. Its permitted use was increased in 2016 to include 10 weeks of pregnancy.
Mifepristone is also used to treat Cushing syndrome, a hormonal disorder, and miscarriages in female patients. Last week, the Democratic governor of Washington state said that the state has stocked up on enough mifepristone to last for three years in case the drug is no longer available nationally.
Days later, the Republican governor of Idaho, a neighbouring state, enacted a new law outlawing “abortion trafficking.” Adults who assist minors in leaving the country without parental permission to seek an abortion violate the law.
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