Since April 2023, the medication abortion drug, mifepristone, has been the center of several high-profile court cases and rulings.
Mifepristone is one of two drugs used in medication abortion and miscarriage management. More than half of the abortions nationwide use mifepristone as part of the medication regimen.
We are committed to bringing you up-to-date information and clarity around the breaking news. As we learn more from our legal partners, we will keep this page updated on the impact these rulings will have on patients seeking abortion care in Washington.
Please note: Mifepristone is still legal and available in Washington.
On August 16, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its final ruling on the mifepristone case. A conservative three-judge panel ruled that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decisions to make mifepristone more accessible in 2016“to allow the drug mifepristone to be taken later in pregnancy, be mailed directly to patients and be prescribed by a medical professional other than a doctor were not lawful.“
This decision partially uphold the conservative Texas court ruling, but the Fifth Circuit ruled that the 23-year-old FDA approval of mifepristone could not be challenged because it occurred too long ago.
This is a deeply disappointing, but not surprising, decision by the court. The case remains a distortion of the legal system and incredibly harmful to public health in America.
The Justice Department has said it will appeal this decision to the Supreme Court.
The Trump-appointed Federal Judge in Texas released his decision on Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. U.S. FDA case.
- The Texas ruling invalidates the 23-year old F.D.A. approval of mifepristone, despite significant evidence that it is an incredibly safe and effective drug.
- The ruling does not go into effect for seven days after the ruling on April 7. This grants the Biden Administration seven days to file an emergency appeal.
- The Justice Department appealed the Texas ruling, which was filed in the conservative-leaning Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Unfortunately, this Court has a long history of conservative rulings.
- This case is a blatant distortion of the legal and public health system. It creates even more fear and confusion about abortion access in the US.
- The legitimacy and reputation of the F.D.A. is under threat. This ruling could upend the way pharmaceuticals are developed and distributed to support public health across a range of health issues.
- It is clear that the Texas ruling is part of an intentional series of actions to remove all reproductive rights across the country. This sounds hyperbolic, but it is not.
Thanks to the proactive actions of Washington state’s Attorney General and his team, a Federal Judge based out of Eastern Washington released a simultaneous ruling that orders the FDA to keep mifepristone available.
These conflicted federal court orders escalated this issue to the Supreme Court. Since Monday, April 10, there have been several actions in defense of mifepristone, including:
- The Biden Administration appealed the Texas decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
- Pro-Choice Washington, along with more than 100 reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations, signed onto an amicus brief to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Biden Administration also requested that Judge Rice in Eastern Washington clarify his decision to preserve the ‘status quo’ for mifepristone in Washington and the 17 other states.
Nearly 400 drug company executives spoke out against the ruling as unscientific and illegal.
Judge Rice from Eastern Washington confirmed that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision does not apply to the states that filed the lawsuit against FDA restrictions on mifepristone, including Washington and Oregon.
- In this case, the Judge ruled to maintain the “status quo” in Washington, Oregon, and the sixteen other states whose Attorney Generals joined the case. That will keep the FDA approval as it has been since 2000, but only in those eighteen states.
The conservative-leaning Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued their ruling on the Justice Department’s appeal.
- The appeals court ruled in ‘partial’ favor of the Texas ruling, which overturned the 23-year FDA approval of mifepristone. This drug is used in medication abortion and miscarriage care.
- This partial ruling means that mifepristone will remain available in the U.S. while the case is appealed to the Supreme Court.
But the Court also reduced access to mifepristone and further harmed the FDA’s legitimacy with their ruling. They did this with no scientific or legal merit. The ruling:
- Rolls back the use of mifepristone from up to 10 weeks of pregnancy to only 7 weeks of pregnancy.
- Rolls back which medical professionals can prescribe mifepristone to patients.
- Makes it illegal to send mifepristone by mail.
- States that the conservative groups waited too long to challenge the FDA’s approval, which happened over 20 years ago. The ruling suggests that if the groups had brought the case sooner, they could have been successful.
The US Supreme Court temporarily preserved access to mifepristone and sent it back to the lower courts after the Biden Administration and Danco Laboratories (the company that manufactures the branded version of mifepristone) separately filed emergency applications to block the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision.
- The US Supreme Court’s temporary stay maintains the ‘status quo’ across the country. This means that mifepristone is available everywhere until the Supreme Court makes its final decision.
- While it is good that mifepristone is currently available, there is still a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. They have a recent track record of ruling against abortion rights.
- The Supreme Court will also not be ruling on the merits of the Texas case, but rather what the restrictions will be on mifepristone (if any) while the case is being decided.
The Supreme Court extended its stay order until Friday, April 21.
On April 21, the Supreme Court blocked the Fifth Circuit court order that would have stopped the distribution and availability of mifepristone across the country, including in Washington. This was not the final Supreme Court decision on the issue, as it will likely make its way back up after the Fifth Circuit makes its final ruling later this year.
This news may feel exhausting, but it also shows the power of those working to protect our rights, and to support our desire to be a healthy and whole person.
Pro-Choice Washington is here and committed to navigating these rulings to best protect, restore, and promote your rights. Remember, you are part of the majority.