In light of a Texas federal judge’s ruling last Friday to prevent the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of mifepristone, one of the drugs used in the process of ending a pregnancy, California has taken steps to protect access in the state and beyond.
Mifepristone is used in combination with misoprostol, which is taken 24-48 hours after taking mifepristone. While the FDA first approved mifepristone under the brand name Mifeprex in 2000, the federal judge’s decision could block the sale and access of the medicines across the nation.
The ruling, delivered by U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas, does not take effect for seven days, in which time President Joe Biden seeks to appeal the decision. Kacsmaryk, a former federal prosecutor and lawyer for the conservative First Liberty Institute, was confirmed in 2019.
“My Administration will fight this ruling. The Department of Justice has already filed an appeal and will seek an immediate stay of the decision,” President Biden said in a statement. “But let’s be clear – the only way to stop those who are committed to taking away women’s rights and freedoms in every state is to elect a Congress who will pass a law restoring Roe versus Wade.”
Following the ruling, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Monday that his administration has obtained an emergency stockpile of up to two million misoprostol pills. The state has received more than 250,000 pills so far and has negotiated the purchase of more, as needed, through CalRx, according to a statement from the Governor’s office.
California is also working to support other states to secure misoprostol at a low cost by sharing the negotiated terms of their purchase agreement with member states in the Reproductive Freedom Alliance, a nonpartisan coalition of 21 governors “committed to protecting and expanding reproductive freedom in their states.”
“In response to this extremist ban on a medication abortion drug, our state has secured a stockpile of an alternative medication abortion drug to ensure that Californians continue to have access to safe reproductive health treatments,” Newsom said. “We will not cave to extremists who are trying to outlaw these critical abortion services. Medication abortion remains legal in California.”
Reproductive Freedom Alliance member states Washington and Massachusetts have also taken action to stockpile the abortion medication as the future of access to abortion medications is uncertain. On April 4, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced that the state would purchase a three-year supply of mifepristone and directed the state’s Department of Corrections to purchase the medication last month, using its existing pharmacy license. Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey announced Monday that her state would purchase an estimated 15,000 doses of mifepristone through the state university system.
Kacsmaryk’s ruling in the case of the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, et. al v. FDA, et al questioned the legality of mifepristone and the actions of the FDA, ultimately invalidating the 2000 approval of the drug.
Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade last summer, the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine released a statement following the ruling on July 23, titled “Abortion is not Healthcare” in which they argue that elective abortion is not essential healthcare.
“The Court does not second-guess FDA’s decision-making lightly,” Kacsmaryk wrote. “But here, FDA acquiesced on its legitimate safety concerns — in violation of its statutory duty — based on plainly unsound reasoning and studies that did not support its conclusions.”
Abortion rights advocacy group and nonprofit organization NARAL Pro-Choice America said the impact of this ruling could have a devastating impact on access to abortion care.
“Right now, 24.5 million women of reproductive age are living in states with abortion bans. If FDA approval of mifepristone is revoked, 64.5 million women of reproductive age in the U.S. would lose access to medication abortion care, an exponential increase in harm overnight,” according to the NARAL Pro-Choice America Research Team.
“This doesn’t include people who can get pregnant, but do not identify as women—if we factor in that population, the number of people harmed is even higher.”