PHILADELPHIA – Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights held an emergency demonstration outside Rittenhouse Square on Saturday, April 8, 2023. Less than 24 hours after U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas, suspended the more than 20-year-old approval of the common abortion medication, Mifepristone. The demonstration consisted of a handful of activists informing people about the ruling that could affect women in all 50 states and Washington, DC.
The group also wanted to draw attention to a larger demonstration planned for Saturday, April 15, 2023, at noon in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum steps, joining with protests across the U.S.
“This is the first time a judge has unilaterally removed a drug from the market over the FDA’s objections,” said Greer Donley, a Unv. of Pittsburgh law professor. “This judge has no scientific background, overruled scientists at a federal regulatory agency filled with scientists whose job is to study the safety and efficacy of medications and medical devices; it’s absurd.”
“We’re pleased with Judge Kacsmaryk’s ruling; by illegally approving dangerous chemical abortion drugs, the FDA put women and girls in harm’s way,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Erik Baptist, who argued before the court in AHM v FDA. “It’s high time the agency is held accountable for its reckless actions.”
Mifepristone has been used safely in 19 countries around the world since the late 1980s and early 90s. During all this time, only 0.7 percent of all people who have used the drug have had to be admitted to the hospital only about half of them were due to a reaction to the medication. The other half was due to unrelated events, such as infectious diseases. Since its approval in 2000, out of 5.8 million pregnancies terminated with Mifepristone, only 28 have died. You are 4 times more likely to die from an allergic reaction from taking penicillin, one of the most common treatments for bacterial infections, while deaths linked to Viagra are ten times higher, according to a study cited in an Amicus brief file in AHM v FDA.
US trials found Mifepristone is 92 percent effective when taken with Misoprostol within the first 49 days. Misoprostol stimulates uterine contractions. French studies have shown the combination to be 95 percent effective for the same period.
Before Roe v Wade was overturned, Mifepristone was already being used in more than half of all abortions in the US; it is also used in miscarriage care.
Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine (AHM), an umbrella organization of anti-abortion doctors and medical organizations, tried to get Mifepristone pulled from the shelves in 2002 after repeated denials and two reviews by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), which sided with the FDA’s approval of Mifepristone in 2008 and 2018. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine was incorporated in Amarillo, TX, in August 2022 to get into Judge Kacsmaryk’s court, knowing his anti-abortion reputation, and filed their suit against the FDA in November.
In the 2018 GOA report reviewing the FDA’s changes, the GOA found that the agency’s decision was supported by “numerous studies” of tens of thousands of women.
“The FDA chose politics over science when it pushed for the legalization of the chemical abortion drugs mifepristone and misoprostol in 2000,” said Baptist. “The FDA approved the drugs only by characterizing pregnancy as an illness and arguing that they provide a meaningful therapeutic benefit.”
FDA clinical trials for Mifepristone began in 1983 and didn’t clear the drug’s first hurdle of having an application for approval submitted by The Population Council to the FDA in 1996. After exhaustive studies, it wouldn’t be approved for another 4 years in 2000.
“The irony of this case is that it flips the standard conservative/progressive dichotomy on its head if you told a conservative interest group that a court was going to ban a product on which thousands of people rely because some ideological plaintiff feels that an agency didn’t look at enough safety studies 23 years ago they would go bananas,” said conservative legal scholar Adam Unikowsky.
“The method of finding a judge that is going to rule your way based on ideological factors as opposed to on the law and the facts is extremely pernicious,” said Sam Goldman, an organizer with Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights. “We are now in a lawless situation where a federal judge uses the courts to delegitimize an entire federal agency. It could throw us into a constitutional crisis, where federal agencies no longer have power.”
On the same day, Judge Kacsmaryk’s ruling in AHM v FDA came down. Judge Thomas O. Rice issued his own ruling on Mifepristone, prohibiting the FDA from pulling the drug from the market in 18 states, stating that a nationwide ban would be “inappropriate.”
Judge Rice’s ruling leaves the future access to Mifepristone in limbo.
“I am deeply disappointed by the flawed decision made today in Texas. Healthcare providers and women need to know that Pennsylvania’s laws have not changed due to this ruling, and abortion remains legal in our Commonwealth,” said Attorney General Michelle Henry. “Women deserve access to safe reproductive healthcare free from unwarranted interference by a court. I will continue to fight to ensure that the people of Pennsylvania get exactly that.”
He added abortion remains legal in Pennsylvania through the 23rd week, and afterward, when necessary to protect the life or health of the pregnant person, Mifepristone will still be available.
On Monday, the Dept. of Justice filed an emergency motion in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to block Judge Kacsmaryk’s Friday ruling.
“Rather than preserving the status quo, as preliminary relief is meant to do, the district court upended decades of reliance by blocking FDA’s approval of Mifepristone and depriving patients of access to this safe and effective treatment, based on the court’s own misguided assessment of the drug’s safety,” said the DOJ in their motion.
“The court’s sweeping nationwide relief was especially unwarranted given the balance of harms: If allowed to take effect, the court’s order would thwart FDA’s scientific judgment and severely harm women, particularly those for whom Mifepristone is a medical or practical necessity,” the DOJ. “This harm would be felt throughout the country, given that Mifepristone has lawful uses in every State. The order would undermine healthcare systems and the reliance interests of businesses and medical providers. In contrast, plaintiffs present no evidence that they will be injured at all, much less irreparably harmed, by maintaining the status quo they left unchallenged for years.”
If the 5th Circuit or the Supreme Court doesn’t intervene to stay Kacsmaryk’s ruling, it will go into effect on Saturday, April 15, 2023.
“These aren’t normal times, and we have to stop acting like they are; the courts and voting alone won’t save us; we have to be in the streets,” said Goldman. “These fascists won’t stop until they have a White Christian Nationalist ethnostate, they want it all, and if we don’t stand up now, across the board, they’ll get it. We are all in danger and must call it like it is.”
If you feel the need to take action, there is a March on Saturday, April 15, 2023, at the PMA. For information about this march or one in your area, click the link.
Or you can donate to any one of the Pro-Choice Org. below.