Gender Justice is tracking ongoing developments regarding the future of mifepristone, a medication with a 20-year track record as a safe, effective, FDA-approved option for ending an early pregnancy. More than half of all abortions in Minnesota and across the United States are via medication abortion care.
But anti-abortion organizations, activists and politicians have been working through the courts to block access to mifepristone as part of their broader goal of banning abortion nationwide.
The news has been changing rapidly, but we are here to keep you updated with what we know and ways you can get involved.
This document is meant to provide information but is not intended to be legal advice.
“What is mifepristone?”
The standard of care for medication abortion includes two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. Now used in more than half of all abortions across the U.S., medication abortion has a proven track record as a safe and effective option for ending an early pregnancy. It expands access to care for people in rural areas, people who can’t travel or take time away from work, and anyone seeking abortion care outside a clinic setting. Mifepristone was approved for use by the FDA in the year 2000 and has been shown to be safer than many commonly-used medications, including Tylenol, penicillin, and Viagra.
Unfortunately, as part of its “risk evaluation and mitigation strategy” (REMS), the FDA singled out mifepristone and imposed a variety of extra rules regulating how it could be prescribed and dispensed. Despite its long safety record and vanishingly small complication rates, it took nearly two decades for the FDA to lift some of these politically-motivated and medically-unnecessary barriers to access. In 2016 and 2021, the FDA updated their regulations, bringing access to care more in line with decades of medical evidence and the needs of people seeking abortion. For example, as of 2021, the FDA began allowing people to access medication abortion via telehealth and through the mail, lifting the previous in-person dispensing requirements.
“What’s happening in the courts?”
Federal courts have issued conflicting rulings in recent weeks, but here’s what we know.
On April 7, a judge in Texas ruled to block the FDA’s approval of mifepristone. U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’s decision was a breathtaking overreach that threatened the reproductive rights and health of people well beyond the borders of Texas.
The Texas lawsuit was filed against the FDA by the far-right Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine (AHM), an organization formed in late 2021 with the singular goal of banning medication abortion nationwide. The claims made by this sham medical organization are entirely without legal merit and run counter to decades of scientific evidence as well as the consensus of every mainstream medical association. Relying on an outdated anti-vice law from the 1800s, they claimed the FDA was wrong to allow mifepristone to be sent by mail – and further, was wrong to have approved it in the first place.
Also on April 7, a judge in Washington state ruled in favor of 17 state attorneys general – including Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison – seeking to protect mifepristone and access to medication abortion. The AGs asserted that the FDA was wrong to single out mifepristone for excessively burdensome regulations as part of its “risk evaluation and mitigation system” (REMS). The extra regulations are not only unnecessary, but also create harmful burdens on the states’ health care systems and the millions of people who rely on them.
The Washington court decision blocks the FDA from imposing additional barriers to medication abortion access in any of the 17 states involved in the lawsuit – including Minnesota, 16 other states, and Washington, DC.
On April 12, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a portion of the Texas decision. The court ruled that the groups challenging the FDA’s approval had waited too long to bring their case. However, it left several other restrictions in place that could make it far harder for people to access mifepristone.
Following an emergency request by the Biden administration to intervene, on April 21 the Supreme Court pressed pause on the lower courts’ rulings to restrict or ban the use of mifepristone.
“Where do we stand now?”
The case remains with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has scheduled oral arguments to begin on May 17.
Watch this space, and make sure you are signed up for alerts from Gender Justice! This has the potential to become the most consequential chapter for reproductive health care since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade.
“What can I do? / What actions can I take?”
In the face of the chaos that anti-abortion activists and politicians have fueled in courts and legislatures across the nation, it is abundantly clear that the courts alone will not save us. We must strengthen and expand the laws in our state that protect abortion access and repeal those that threaten it. We can do that by passing a key bill being considered by Minnesota’s legislature:
- The Reproductive Freedom Codification Act (HF91/SF70) would remove from Minnesota’s legislative code a lengthy list of restrictions on abortion rights and access, many of which have been ruled unconstitutional by a Minnesota state court. Contact your legislator.
Passing this bill will strengthen Minnesota’s abortion protections and provide clarity to health care providers and anyone looking to our state for safe and effective abortion care.
We can’t afford to wait to take action while anti-abortion activists, ideologues and judges continue to attempt to erode Minnesotans’ access to this essential health care. Abortion access and reproductive freedom are Minnesota values, and we must act now to ensure abortion in our state is safe, protected and unrestricted.