The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument on Wednesday about the abortion drug mifepristone.
The case against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, brought by a conservative group called the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, was first heard in Texas by Amarillo-based District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk earlier this spring. Kacsmaryk ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, a group of doctors who say they have had to treat women in emergency room settings when a medication abortion has led to complications. The doctors say they have conscientious objections to caring for abortion patients. The group, who have been accused of “judge shopping” since they have no known relationship to Amarillo but filed suit there, claim the FDA’s approval process of mifepristone in 2000 was rushed to market too soon and that the FDA did so by calling pregnancy “an illness.” They want to see the drug removed from the market and restudied. The U.S. Department of Justice, which argued the case on Wednesday, said the plaintiffs lack standing and that the case is time barred because the approval process took place 23 years ago.
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.
Update: The judge made his ruling Friday evening and invalidated the FDA approval though the judge stayed his own order for seven days to allow the FDA to appeal. A second federal judge in Washington ordered the FDA to make no changes to the availability of mifepristone. This story appears as originally written below. A federal district judge in Texas is expected to rule in the coming weeks on whether the abortion drug mifepristone can remain on the market. The case, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, was brought to the Amarillo-based federal district court, abortion advocates have said, because the sole federal judge there has ties to Christian-based organizations and has said before that he supports state bans on birth control.