A decision could be made as soon as Wednesday in a court case that could force a major abortion pill off the market nationwide.
The case before a federal judge in Texas could dramatically alter access to medication abortion, which makes up well over half of all abortions, by targeting the decadeslong FDA approval of the drug mifepristone.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk is set to hear arguments at 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday in the lawsuit, which was filed in November by a coalition led by the conservative legal advocacy organization Alliance Defending Freedom.
The hearing in Amarillo, Texas, became public knowledge Monday after media outlets raised concerns about the major court case proceeding without the level of openness typically expected of federal court proceedings.
PREVIOUS REPORTING:A Texas judge could soon force a major abortion pill off market nationwide
What does the lawsuit claim?
The coalition led by Alliance Defending Freedom argues mifepristone comes with medical risks and should be pulled from the market.
The FDA approved mifepristone for medication abortion in 2000. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists call mifepristone a safe and effective abortion medication and component of treatment and management for early pregnancy loss or miscarriage.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE:Reproductive justice is a human rights, abortion access movement.
BLACK WOMEN COINED TERM ‘REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE:Now, it’s driving a national conversation.
Ruling could devastate medication abortion access
If the judge rules in favor of the anti-abortion coalition, mifepristone could be effectively banned nationwide, creating what abortion access advocates have called severe consequences on people’s ability to access critical abortion and miscarriage care.
The ruling could bar healthcare providers from prescribing mifepristone even in states where abortion is legal. In-clinic, procedural abortion care would not be affected by the ruling.
“The stakes are very high and the impacts could be devastating, resulting in a nationwide ban of mifeprisone,” Jenny Ma, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a February interview. “That’s people in New York, in California, people who thought their abortion rights were protected in their states.”
The ruling will affect medication abortion access for about 64.5 million women of reproductive age nationwide, according to an analysis released Feb. 10 by NARAL Pro-Choice America. Low-income communities, rural communities and people of color will be disproportionately impacted by the reversal, experts say.
SOUTH CAROLINA WOMAN ARRESTED:Incident draws attention to criminalization of self-managed abortions
Medication abortion lawsuit hearing made public
The Washington Post first revealed the hearing was set for Wednesday, reporting Kacsmaryk delayed putting the date on the public docket to minimize possible threats and protests over the closely watched case. Kacsmaryk also asked attorneys not to publicly disclose details of the plans for the hearing, according to the newspaper.
Hearings are typically quickly placed on public court dockets, and delaying public notice is unusual. A coalition of media outlets, including the Amarillo Globe-News, part of the USA TODAY Network, filed a motion protesting the delay in public notice.
‘WE’RE DONE’:Why California Governor Gavin Newsom has ordered the state to cut ties with Walgreens
Several legal experts have told USA TODAY the lawsuit lacks legal and scientific standing but have raised concerns that Judge Kacsmaryk may still rule on the side of the plaintiffs, striking down FDA approval of mifepristone. Typically, plaintiffs do not know who their judge will be when filing a lawsuit. But in this case, the complaint was filed in Amarillo, Texas, where the only judge is Kacsmaryk, an appointee of former President Donald Trump who has a history of conservative rulings.
Legal experts say this was no accident and part of a strategy to decimate medication abortion access.
“Clearly, overturning Roe v. Wade was not the end game for the anti-abortion movement,” Lorie Chaiten, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, told USA Today in February.
ABORTION VIEWS IN THE STATES POLL:Many Americans living in states where abortion rights are limited want more rights
What happens next?
While the FDA may choose to restart the approval process, this could take years.
The case will likely be appealed, landing it in the right-leaning Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. If the case is appealed again in federal circuit court, it may arrive before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, providers are rushing in preparation to shift to misoprostol-only protocols for medication abortions, and clinics have already begun ordering more misoprostol supplies.
Health experts say a misoprostol-only protocol for medication abortions is a safe and effective alternative to the two-step process using both mifepristone and misoprostol that is used in the U.S. While misoprostol has been used on its own for years for abortions around the world, studies show it is less effective than the two-step regimen.
‘IT’S TIME FOR US TO BE BOLD’:Why six religious leaders are fighting to expand abortion access
Contact Christine Fernando at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.