April 15, 2023

U.S. Supreme Court pauses any change to abortion medication but NM provider seeing impacts

Susan Dunlap

Abortion rights protesters U.S. Supreme Court Washington D.C.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay on the appellate decision about the abortion medication drug mifepristone on Friday, but one abortion provider in New Mexico said her staff are already seeing fewer people request abortion medication when making appointments.

Whole Women’s Health, formerly known for its work as an abortion provider in Texas, moved to a new location in Albuquerque last month. Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and chief executive officer of Whole Women’s Health, told NM Political Report that even though abortion medication remains legal in New Mexico, she and her staff have noticed a decline in patients requesting abortion medication when setting an appointment in the three weeks the clinic has been open in the state.

Hagstrom Miller said the legal battle around abortion medication causes confusion for patients. She also said it increases the stigma around abortion and that is an equity issue.

“One of the metrics to really measure access to safe abortion is, it needs to be a robust healthcare system where people have options. If we succeed, all those [abortion method] options should be available; that’s what I get worried about,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Justice requested the emergency stay from the Supreme Court on Thursday. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, based out of New Orleans, issued an order at midnight Wednesday that agreed with a lower court’s decision on the future of mifepristone in part, but also gave the Federal Drug Administration time to request a stay from the Supreme Court before the appellate court’s decision would go into effect.

The Supreme Court’s temporary stay remains in effect until Wednesday. Both parties to the lawsuit, the FDA and a Christian-based group called the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, must submit briefs to the high court by Tuesday.

But, New Mexico is safe from the legal battle now taking place at the Supreme Court, legal experts have said. Ellie Rushforth, a reproductive attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, told NM Political Report through email that medication abortion is safe and legal in this state and will remain so.

“None of the recent court decisions change the legality or availability of abortion care right now; abortion through the mifepristone-misoprostol protocol is still available,” she said.

The Office of Attorney General Raúl Torrez, who joined in a lawsuit launched earlier this year by Washington state against the FDA, also told NM Political Report that medication abortion remains legal in New Mexico.

Washington state Federal District Judge Thomas Rice issued an order late Thursday to clarify that the 17 states and the District of Columbia, which includes New Mexico, would not be affected by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision.

The mifepristone manufacturer, Danco Laboratories LLC, also filed a brief with the Supreme Court asking the high court to stay the appellate court’s decision, which would have forced the FDA to return to some restrictions on the drug for the 33 states that did not participate in the Washington state lawsuit.

Hagstrom Miller said she does not think that the legal issues will impact supply and demand for the abortion drug. She said there is also some gray area because the appellate decision which would force the FDA to return to its restrictions on the medication prior to 2016, is only focused on the brand label for mifepristone. But, she said there is a generic brand of mifepristone and it was not a part of the original lawsuit.

“There are two products out there. That gives us hope,” she said.