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On Friday, Democratic and Republican attorneys general clashed in a federal court battle over an attempt by anti-abortion physicians to remove the abortion pill, mifepristone, from the U.S. market. New York led a coalition of 22 attorneys general, who argued that withdrawing the pill would have “devastating consequences” for women, while Mississippi led 22 Republican attorneys general who argued that the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone is “deeply flawed.”
The controversy surrounds a lawsuit filed by anti-abortion physicians last November, which seeks to overturn the FDA’s more than two-decade-old approval of mifepristone. Used in combination with misoprostol, mifepristone is the most common method to terminate a pregnancy in the U.S., accounting for about half of all abortions, according to the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America. NARAL’s analysis published Friday states that 40 million women would lose access to the abortion pill if the court overturns the FDA’s approval.
The coalition led by New York argued that overturning the FDA approval would make the pill largely unavailable, forcing women to either undergo a more invasive surgical procedure or forgo abortion altogether. They argued that surgical abortion is more costly and difficult to obtain, which would disproportionately impact women who are lower income, underserved or live in rural communities where there might not be access to a clinic.
The coalition led by Mississippi backed the anti-abortion physicians claims, calling the FDA’s actions on mifepristone “deeply flawed.” They argued that the agency’s actions subverted Congress’ safeguards for patients. However, the FDA has had regulations in place for years to monitor the safety of mifepristone, which it has gradually eased as more evidence has come in. In its response last month, the FDA called the lawsuit “extraordinary and unprecedented” and argued that decades of experience among thousands of women have confirmed that the drug regimen is safer than surgical abortion or childbirth.
Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who is presiding over the case in the U.S. District Court in Northern Texas, extended a key deadline in the case on Thursday. Later Friday, 67 Republican members of Congress filed a brief calling the FDA’s approval of mifepristone “unlawful,” and attorneys for Danco Laboratories told the court that forcing the FDA to withdraw a longstanding approval would have “seismic” consequences.
The FDA last month changed its regulations to allow certified retail pharmacies to dispense mifepristone, and CVS and Walgreens, the nation’s two largest drugstore chains, have said they are getting certified to dispense the prescription medication in states where it’s legal to do so. Republican attorneys general have warned the companies against distributing the pill by mail in their states, indicating that they would take legal action.
Mifepristone has become the central focus in the battle over abortion access since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last June. There are also lawsuits seeking to overturn state restrictions on mifepristone, arguing that they conflict with FDA regulations. The New York led coalition of attorneys general arguing to keep mifepristone on the market include: 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, D.C. The Mississippi led coalition arguing against the FDA approval of mifepristone include: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.