A federal judge on Friday handed another resounding victory to abortion opponents in the United States, withdrawing marketing authorization for an abortion pill approved for more than 20 years and used each year by half a million Americans.
President Joe Biden said he was determined to “fight” the move, calling it an “unprecedented attempt to deprive women of fundamental freedoms.”
Ten months after the landmark Supreme Court ruling that gave each US state the freedom to ban pregnancy terminations on its soil, magistrate Matthew Kacsmaryk, known for his ultra-conservative views, issued, from Texas, a decision supposed to apply to the whole country.
At the same time, one of his colleagues, located in the State of Washington, judged that the marketing authorization for mifepristone (RU 486), combined with another cachet, could not be withdrawn in the 17 Democratic states that had seized it.
It will, therefore, quickly be up to the Supreme Court, profoundly overhauled by former Republican President Donald Trump, to clarify the situation.
Judge Kacsmaryk’s decision will not apply for a week anyway, the magistrate having chosen to give the federal government time to appeal, which shouldn’t take long.
“The Ministry of Justice strongly disagrees” with the decision, “it will appeal (…) and request a reprieve in the meantime,” said Minister Merrick Garland in a press release.
In his 67-page judgment, Judge Kacsmaryk validates most of the arguments in the complaint filed in November by a coalition of doctors and organizations hostile to abortion against the American Medicines Agency (FDA).
Like them, he resumes studies on the risks of the abortion pill, although they are considered negligible by the majority of the scientific community. He also accuses the FDA of failing to follow its procedures to meet a political objective.
“There is evidence that the FDA faced intense political pressure to waive its safety precautions in order to promote the political goal of expanding access to abortion,” he wrote.
“This is unprecedented and deeply damaging,” said the powerful family planning organization Planned Parenthood, which runs many abortion clinics nationwide.
“We should all be outraged that a judge could unilaterally reject medical evidence” to contradict the FDA, added its president Alexis McGill Johnson, stressing that this decision could have consequences “far beyond abortion.”
Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris also slammed “an unprecedented decision that threatens women’s rights across the country” and worried about the consequences for other cancer or diabetes drugs.
The elected Democrats in Congress, for their part, focused their criticism on Judge Kacsmaryk: “an extremist judge” for their former leader in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and a “rogue judge” for his successor Hakeem Jeffries.
Appointed by Donald Trump, Matthew Kacsmaryk was a lawyer for a Christian organization before taking office in Amarillo, Texas, where he is the only federal judge. By filing a complaint in this city, the opponents of abortion were sure that the case would return to him.
Friday, they did not hide their joy. The SBA Prolife America group hailed “a victory for the health and safety of women and girls.” Its Director of Political Affairs, Katie Glenn, said, “closely analyze” the second judgment, “but we are hopeful that the dangerous disregard for women’s lives displayed for two decades by the FDA will soon be corrected.”
Even if justice ultimately suspended the FDA’s authorization, it would probably take several months before its decision applies. According to health law experts, the drug regulator must follow a strict procedure before withdrawing the authorization of a product.
Women and doctors could also fall back on a second pill, misoprostol, combined today with mifepristone for greater efficiency and less pain.
“We will not let this unjust decision prevent access to abortion pills,” which via “alternative routes” can “always arrive in your mailboxes,” has already indicated Elisa Wells, founder of the Plan network.