By Elisha Brown
A federal judge said Wednesday he will rule “as soon as possible” on the case challenging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval and regulation of mifepristone, the first drug used in a medication abortion, according to our partner newsroom The Texas Tribune. The ruling could have widespread implications on the availability of abortion medication across the country.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a President Trump appointee, heard more than four hours of oral arguments from Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative legal organization representing the plaintiffs who oppose abortion rights, and lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice and Danco Laboratories, the drug’s producer.
ADF lawyer Erik Baptist said “pregnancy is not an illness,” the Tribune’s Eleanor Klibanoff reported from Amarillo. “Mifepristone doesn’t treat anything.” Kacsmaryk appeared to favor that argument, listing drugs that were approved under the same FDA regulation system as mifepristone, many of which treat HIV and cancer.
The plaintiffs want Kacsmaryk to suspend and rescind FDA approval of the mifepristone, which was approved in 2000. Justice Department attorney Julie Straus Harris said doing so would be “depriving patients and doctors of a safe and effective drug,” the Tribune reported.
The DOJ attorneys, representing the FDA, also contend the statute of limitations has lapsed to bring claims and that the plaintiff doctors and medical groups did not show sufficient harm. Anti-abortion groups filed a citizen petition against the drug’s approval in 2002, that the FDA rejected in 2016, the same day the agency loosened some restrictions on the drug. ADF attorney Erin Morrow Hawley called the move “agency gamesmanship,” according to the Tribune.
Aside from the Texas hearing, Indiana abortions increased during the months after the U.S. Supreme Court Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, then fell dramatically in recent months, according to state data. In Arizona, ADF gained a legal victory after a federal judge ruled that Republican legislative leadership can intervene in an abortion-related court case. In Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers introduced an exceptions bill for the statewide abortion ban that is unlikely to move in the legislature. Here’s the latest:
Indiana abortions declined post-Dobbs as clinics face staff shortages
Indiana saw an uptick in abortions the first three months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion, but the numbers later dropped by nearly 50%, according to state data obtained by our colleagues at Indiana Capital Chronicle. About 1,048 abortions on average were reported monthly from July to September 2022. Then, from October through January, 552 abortions were reported each month on average.
The trailing numbers reflect the confusion of changing laws and fear from Hoosiers seeking abortions, according to health care providers. Indiana lawmakers passed a near-total abortion ban in August but it was immediately blocked; abortion is currently legal up to 20 weeks while the battle over the law plays out in court. Despite the current law, abortion clinics are dealing with staff vacancies after some doctors left to practice in less-restrictive states. For instance, the Planned Parenthood in Indianapolis has not performed abortions since the end of February.
Arizona GOP leaders can defend genetic-abnormalities abortion ban, judge rules
U.S. District Judge Douglas Rayes ruled this month that Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma, Republican leaders in the Arizona Legislature, can defend a 2021 anti-abortion law in court, according to Arizona Mirror. Alliance Defending Freedom, the Scottsdale-based conservative legal advocacy group at the center of the Texas abortion pill suit, represented Petersen and Toma after Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes declined to defend the state law. (A parallel situation is happening in North Carolina, according to the Associated Press: this week, a federal judge granted Republican leadership’s request to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the state’s medication abortion restrictions after Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, said he would not defend state law.)
The 2021 law at the center of the Arizona lawsuit contained fetal personhood tenets and banned elective abortions due to genetic abnormalities; health care professionals who violated the statute could face a $10,000 fine if they don’t report physicians who perform abortions to law enforcement. In January, Rayes, a President Obama appointee, reinstated the 2021 part of the abortion ban about genetic abnormalities, citing the Dobbs decision. The state still allows abortion for up to 15 weeks of pregnancy in most cases.
Wisconsin Republicans unveil abortion exceptions bill
Just three weeks before a crucial state Supreme Court election, Republican lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday that would add rape and incest exceptions to Wisconsin’s current abortion ban, first written in 1849, Wisconsin Examiner reported.
The bill, co-authored by Sen. Mary Felzkowski and Rep. Donna Rozar, is unlikely to pass but would also clarify vague language about medical emergencies. “I’ve been clear from the beginning — I won’t sign a bill that leaves Wisconsin women with fewer rights and freedoms than they had before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe,” Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said. A November poll found that 84% of Wisconsinites support rape and incest exceptions, and 73% of Republicans polled agreed.
“Behind the doors of what are misleadingly designed to look like full-service reproductive care centers, anti-abortion centers give out deceptive medical information and use tactics to delay people from accessing health care services they want — intentionally targeting folks who are young and scared people, like I was.” – Amy Mann, Front Range Community College communications instructor, Colorado Newsline
- A bill that would create an anti-abortion monument at the Arkansas Capitol cleared the state Legislature on Tuesday. (Arkansas Advocate.)
- Vice President Kamala Harris will speak at a reproductive rights event in Des Moines today. (Iowa Capital Dispatch.)
- A Bronx man is fighting for legal custody of his son three years after his partner died during childbirth in New York. (The City.)
- Sudden infant deaths increased by 15% from 2019 to 2020 in the U.S., and Black babies had the highest rate of sudden unexpected deaths during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest federal data. (Washington Post.)
- A film backed by a New Mexico reproductive justice organization aims to rectify misconceptions about substance abuse and parenthood. (Prism.)
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