A judge in Texas heard arguments in a lawsuit filed by anti-abortion groups seeking to ban abortion pills widely used in the United States in the latest legal battle over reproductive health care in the country.
U.S. federal judge Matthew Kaczmaric, a conservative appointee of former President Donald Trump, has yet to rule after more than four hours of arguments over the ban on mifepristone approved by the Food and Drug Administration more than 20 years ago.
The Alliance Defending Freedom and other groups asked Kacsmaryk on Wednesday to issue an immediate order that would revoke or suspend the drug’s approval.
Such a move would be an unprecedented challenge to the FDA, which in 2000 approved mifepristone in combination with the second pill as a safe and effective abortion method.
It will also further reshape the landscape of reproductive rights in the US following the country’s highest court’s decision in June to overturn its landmark 1973 abortion rights decision, Roe v Wade.
If Judge Kaczmarik decides to overturn the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, it won’t be based on science or evidence, it will be based on anti-choice ideology.
And that’s a scary prospect for the future of our democracy. pic.twitter.com/CY0qrNFnDV
— NARAL (@NARAL) March 7, 2023
The abortion pill is the most common form of abortion in the U.S., accounting for more than half of all procedures as of 2020, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research organization.
“If Judge Kacsmaryck decides to overturn the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, it will not be based on science or evidence,” the abortion rights group NARAL tweeted ahead of Wednesday’s hearing. “It will be based on the anti-choice ideology.”
In June, the anti-abortion movement celebrated when the conservative-majority US Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to strike down Roe v. Wade.
In the months since, many Republican-controlled states have enacted strict abortion restrictions or outright bans, and anti-abortionists have also turned their attention to attempts to ban the abortion pill.
Mifepristone is the first of two pills taken to induce abortion. The pill stops the pregnancy, and a second pill taken up to 48 hours later, misoprostol, causes pain, bleeding and emptying of the uterus.
The procedure can be completed safely at home and is approved for up to 10 weeks of pregnancy.
The Texas lawsuit alleges that the FDA’s approval of mifepristone in 2000 was flawed for several reasons, including an inadequate review of the pill’s safety risks.
The lawsuit also challenges several later FDA decisions that loosened restrictions on the pill, including eliminating the requirement that women take it in person.
But abortion rights advocates criticized the lawsuit as another attack on reproductive justice in the United States.
On Wednesday, a small group of protesters demonstrated outside the courthouse in Amarillo, Texas, where the case is being heard. They carried signs with the slogans “Not your womb, not your decision” and “Protect medical abortion”.
Lindsey London, a 41-year-old nurse, said the case was “100 per cent ideologically driven”.
“If they were concerned about people’s health, they would have taken a lot more action,” London told the AFP news agency. “It’s ideological, not based on science.”
Major medical organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have weighed in with the FDA, saying mifepristone has been “thoroughly studied and is conclusively safe.”
Legal experts also say there is little precedent for a single judge to overturn a scientific assessment by the FDA, which said in January that ending the sale of mifepristone would “severely” harm the public interest and push women to undergo unnecessary surgical abortions.
It is not clear when Kaczmarik will issue his decision, but if he rules in favor of the plaintiffs, the US government is widely expected to appeal.
If he opposes the FDA, it’s unclear how quickly access to mifepristone could be reduced or how the process would work. The FDA has its own procedures for revoking drug approvals, which involve public hearings and scientific deliberations and can take months or years.