NEWS: Takeaways from the Texas hearing on medication abortion drugs

by | Mar 16, 2023 | Reproductive Rights

Takeaways From the Texas Hearing on Medication Abortion Drugs

CNN, March 15, 2023

Over the course of about four hours of arguments, a federal judge in Texas asked questions that suggested he is seriously considering undoing the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a medication abortion drug and the agency’s moves to relax the rules around its use. But the judge, US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, also indicated he was thinking through scenarios in which he could keep the drug’s 2000 approval intact while blocking other FDA rules. Anti-abortion doctors and medical associations are seeking a preliminary injunction that would require the FDA to withdraw or suspend its approval of the drug, mifepristone, and that would block the agency’s more recent regulatory changes making the pills more accessible. Here are takeaways from the hearing. Judge focused on FDA’s process for approving abortion pills: Kacsmaryk showed a particular interest in the arguments by the abortion opponents that the FDA approved mifepristone in an unlawful way. He zeroed in on a claim by the abortion foes that the studies that the FDA looked at when deciding whether to approve the drug did not match the conditions under which the agency allows it to be administered. Erik Baptist, attorney for the challengers, alleged that those studies all featured patients who received ultrasounds before being treated with the drug, which is not among the FDA’s requirements for prescribing abortion pills…Challengers admit no other court has done what they’re asking the judge to do: One of the sharpest questions from the judge was whether the anti-abortion activists could point to another analogous case when a court intervened in the way he is being asked to intervene here…Supreme Court’s Roe reversal seen as a ‘sea change’: The medication abortion lawsuit targets actions the FDA took around medication abortion pills before last summer’s Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade‘s abortion rights protections. While that decision, known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, didn’t play a major role in Wednesday’s arguments, the judge referenced it and suggested it could have an impact on his thinking about the case…Temperatures stay cool in the courtroom after a heated, pre-hearing blow up over transparency… Judge promises order and opinion ‘as soon as possible’.

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The U.S. Has a High Rate of Preterm Births, and Abortion Bans Could Make That Worse

NPR, March 15, 2023

Tamara Etienne’s second pregnancy was freighted with risk and worry from its earliest days — exacerbated by a first pregnancy that had ended in miscarriage. A third-grade teacher at an overcrowded Miami-Dade County public school at the time, she spent harried days on her feet. Financial worries weighed heavily, even with health insurance and some paid time off through her job. And as a Black woman, experiencing a lifetime of racism had left Etienne wary of unpredictable reactions in daily life and drained by derogatory and unequal treatment at work. It’s the sort of stress that can release cortisol, which studies have shown heighten the risk for premature labor. “I’m experiencing it every day — not walking alone, walking with someone I have to protect,” she said. “So the level of cortisol in my body when I’m pregnant? Immeasurable.” Two months into her pregnancy, the unrelenting nausea suddenly stopped. “I started to feel like my pregnancy symptoms were going away,” she said. Then strange back pain started. Etienne and her husband rushed to an emergency room, where a doctor confirmed she was at grave risk of having a miscarriage. A cascade of medical interventions — progesterone injections, fetal monitoring at home, and bed rest while she took months off work — saved the child, who was born at 37 weeks. About 1 in 10 live births in the U.S. in 2021 occurred prematurely — before 37 weeks of gestation — according to a March of Dimes report released late last year. That’s a higher rate of premature births than in most developed countries; research in recent years has cited rates of 7.4% in England and Wales, 6% in France, and 5.8% in Sweden. It’s a distinction that coincides with high rates of maternal and infant death, billions of dollars in intensive care costs, and often lifelong disabilities for the children who survive. “It’s very hard to identify that a patient will automatically have a preterm birth,” says Dr. Elvire Jacques, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Memorial Hospital in Miramar, Fla. “But you can definitely identify stressors for their pregnancies.”

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Senate Democrats Press Pharmacies to Ensure Access to Abortion Drug

The Hill, March 14, 2023

A group of Democratic senators sent letters to seven pharmacies on Monday to urge them to ensure customers have access to an abortion drug as some states seek restrictions on the pill. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in a Tuesday release said she and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) led 16 other Democrats in sending the letters to seven of the largest pharmacies in the country — Walgreens, Albertsons, Costco, Kroger, Walmart, CVS and Rite Aid. The letter asks for details about their plans and policies toward providing mifepristone, which can allow people to end a pregnancy themselves through 10 weeks. The release notes that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lifted certain requirements for individuals to have access to mifepristone in January, and Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid announced after that they would seek certification for providing the pill when they are legally allowed. The release said Albertsons, Cosco, Kroger and Walmart have not announced any plans. But it states that Walgreens seemed to “cave” to “threats” from Republican attorneys general who sent letters to the company to warn it against providing the pill, arguing that doing so would violate state laws restricting abortion. Walgreens said earlier this month that it would not provide mifepristone in several states, including some without strict abortion restrictions, following the warning of legal action from the attorneys general. “While we are well aware of threatening letters you received with regard to the distribution of mifepristone in certain states, the response to those pressures was unacceptable and appeared to yield to these threats—ignoring the critical need to ensure patients can get this essential health care wherever possible,” they said. The senators’ letters to the four pharmacies that have not yet announced plans to distribute mifepristone called on them to establish plans to grant their customers access. They said in their letters to CVS and Rite Aid that they are pleased with the pharmacies’ actions to protect access to abortion medication and advised them to communicate clearly with customers to avoid confusion. The senators said that Walgreens has done a “disservice” in adding to confusion about abortion access and insisted on clarification about the company’s plans.

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Republicans Push Wave of Bills That Would Bring Homicide Charges for Abortion

The Guardian, March 10, 2023

For decades, the mainstream anti-abortion movement promised that it did not believe women who have abortions should be criminally charged. But now, Republican lawmakers in several US states have introduced legislation proposing homicide and other criminal charges for those seeking abortion care. The bills have been introduced in states such as Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Some explicitly target medication abortion and self-managed abortion; some look to remove provisions in the law which previously protected pregnant people from criminalization; and others look to establish the fetus as a person from the point of conception. It is highly unlikely that all of these bills will pass. But their proliferation marks a distinct departure from the language of existing bans and abortion restrictions, which typically exempt people seeking abortion care from criminalization. “This exposes a fundamental lie of the anti-abortion movement, that they oppose the criminalization of the pregnant person,” said Dana Sussman, the acting executive director of Pregnancy Justice. “They are no longer hiding behind that rhetoric.” Some members of the anti-abortion movement have made it clear the bills do not align with their views, continuing to insist that abortion providers, rather than pregnant people themselves, should be targeted by criminal abortion laws. “[We] oppose penalties for mothers, who are a second victim of a predatory abortion industry,” said Kristi Hamrick, the chief media and policy strategist for Students for Life of America. “We want to see a billion-dollar industry set up to profit by preying on women and the preborn held accountable. The pro-life movement as a whole has been very clear on this.” A spokesperson for Susan B Anthony Pro-Life America echoed the same sentiment: that the organization unequivocally rejects prosecution of the pregnant person. The bills are likely to be controversial as they proceed, even within conservative circles: Republicans have frequently hit walls when trying to pass anti-abortion legislation, with lawmakers at odds over exactly how far bans should go. The reproductive justice organization If/When/How points out these bills are an indication of the different wings and splinter groups in the anti-abortion movement, increasingly evident since the Dobbs decision last year that overturned Roe v Wade.

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We Are Not ‘Groomers’: How Anti-LGBTQ Stereotypes Inhibit Reproductive Justice

Rewire News Group, March 14, 2023

By labeling LGBTQ people as “groomers,” right-wing politicians and activists insinuate that we are sexual predators who pose a threat to children simply for existing as ourselves. This stereotype is used to promote a range of anti-queer and anti-trans laws that include criminalizing drag shows, banning LGBTQ topics from schools, and limiting access to gender-affirming care. This strategy isn’t “new,” per se. In the 1970s, conservative activist Anita Bryant launched the “Save Our Children” campaign to bar gay and lesbian teachers from the classroom. (Bryant getting hit in the face with a pie is a delicious slice of queer history.) But the pervasiveness of social media has exacerbated the impact of these stereotypes. In the weeks following the passage of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, dubbed the “Anti-Grooming Bill,” the number of tweets featuring the term “groomer” rose by a startling 400 percent. Even when legislative attacks against LGBTQ people fail to become law, the “groomer” stereotype has dangerous implications. For example, Boston Children’s Hospital received multiple bomb threats after an anti-LGBTQ TikTok account falsely accused them of “child mutilation” for offering gender-affirming care to trans youth. In my work as a researcher on inequality and reproduction, I’ve collected interview data from trans women who are parents (or want to be parents in the future) to examine the “groomer” stereotype as a barrier to reproductive justice. This is part of a larger project to understand how race, class, and gender shape trans women’s parenting journeys. Imagining the possibility of parenthood: Between 25 percent and 50 percent of trans adults have children, and the majority of trans people want children in the future. Still, many of the folks I talked with in my research have struggled to imagine themselves as parents, having internalized the idea that parenthood and trans-ness are incompatible. “There’s the idea that queer people, especially gay men and trans women, are pedophiles, and it’s frighteningly effective,” said Laila, 28. “It makes it difficult for me to feel comfortable or safe being around any kids, let alone my own.” (Names have been changed for privacy reasons.) Pearl, 26, shares a similar story. When I asked whether she always wanted kids, Pearl said, “Not at first.”

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