Abortion Clinics in Three States Sue to Protect Pill Access
ABC News, May 8, 2023
Abortion providers in three states filed a lawsuit Monday aimed at preserving access to the abortion pill mifepristone, even as the drug is threatened by a separate Texas lawsuit winding its way through U.S. court system. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Virginia on behalf of clinics in Virginia, Montana and Kansas, is the latest legal action over the decades-old pill, which is part of the two-drug regimen used in most U.S. abortions. A federal judge in Texas issued a ruling last month that would have revoked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s longstanding approval of the pill, an unprecedented challenge to the federal drug regulator. But the Supreme Court blocked that decision and other limits from a lower court from taking effect while the lawsuit continues. Abortion-rights advocates and their opponents continue jostling for a legal foothold on the issue across the country. The clinics in Virginia, Montana and Kansas sued the FDA on Monday in federal court to force the agency to drop several longstanding restrictions on how mifepristone can be prescribed. But from a practical standpoint, the groups said they are seeking a court order that would shield mifepristone access in their states as the litigation over the drug proceeds. That is what 18 liberal states achieved last month when a federal judge in Washington state issued a ruling ordering the FDA to preserve access to mifepristone in those states, regardless of any conflicting court decisions. The ruling came shortly after the Texas decision, creating confusion for abortion providers and their patients. The plaintiffs in Monday’s lawsuit said they hope to prevent similar chaos as the legal battle over mifepristone accelerates. An appeals court in New Orleans is set to hear arguments in the Texas case later this month. “Plaintiffs cannot retool their practices overnight with no notice — healthcare has no on-off switch.
Abortion Pill Case to Be Heard by Conservative, Anti-Abortion Panel
Reuters, May 8, 2023
A case brought by anti-abortion groups seeking to ban the abortion pill mifepristone nationwide will be heard next week by a panel of three deeply conservative judges hostile to abortion rights, a federal appeals court revealed on Monday. The Biden administration is expected to urge the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in New Orleans on May 17 to overturn a court order that suspended the federal government’s approval of mifepristone. The administration will be appealing to Circuit Judges Jennifer Walker Elrod, who upheld a Texas law making it more difficult for abortion clinics to operate in the state; James Ho, who has called abortion a “moral tragedy”; and Cory Wilson, who supported abortion bans as a Mississippi state legislator. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is named as the defendant in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Ho did not immediately return a request for comment. A Wilson staffer said he does not comment on pending cases, and a staffer for Elrod referred Reuters to the court’s clerk’s office, which said it could not comment. Mifepristone is part of the two-drug regimen used in medication abortion, which accounts for more than half of U.S. abortions. Led by the recently formed Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, abortion foes claimed in a lawsuit last year that mifepristone is dangerous and that the FDA approved it unlawfully in 2000. Scientific studies have overwhelmingly concluded that the drug, which has been used by millions of women, is safe. U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas last month sided with the plaintiffs, finding they were likely to win, and suspended mifepristone’s approval while their lawsuit goes forward. The U.S. Supreme Court put that order on hold, meaning that mifepristone remains available while the case is appealed. In filings last week, the FDA and mifepristone maker Danco Laboratories said Kacsmaryk’s order would both harm the public and destabilize the pharmaceutical industry.
Abortion Access Keeps Winning Elections
The New York Times, May 11, 2023
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion access has fared very well when it has appeared on the ballot. Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont approved abortion-rights amendments to their state constitutions last year. In Kansas and Kentucky — both red states — voters rejected measures that could have led to bans. In Wisconsin this year, the candidate favoring abortion access easily won a judicial election focused on the issue. The 2024 elections offer supporters of abortion rights an opportunity to continue their winning streak. There are 10 states that both significantly restrict abortion (or may soon) and allow citizen-sponsored ballot initiatives, including Florida, Ohio and Arizona. Placing measures on the ballots there offers progressives a possible double victory — to expand access and energize 2024 turnout among Democratic voters. But it remains unclear how many of these states will hold referendums. Advocates have not yet collected the signatures they need in most states, nor have they started a national fund-raising campaign for the effort. At this point, some observers say they would be surprised if even five of the 10 states held initiatives next year. The situation has the potential to be a major missed opportunity for the abortion-rights movement. One progressive activist told us it would be “political malpractice.” What explains the apparent lack of urgency? In interviews, some activists said that placing a measure on a ballot took time and money, and that they wanted to make sure the initiatives used language that would survive legal challenges. “You don’t get two bites at this apple,” Sarah Standiford of Planned Parenthood Action Fund said. Other advocates pointed to internal disagreements and disorganization in the movement that have delayed action. The movement has not been able to agree on a national strategy, including whether ballot initiatives should use the word “women” and how far into pregnancy abortion should remain legal.
Abortion Clinics Saw an Increase in Violence and Threats in 2022, Report Says
CNN, May 11, 2023
A new report says there was a “sharp increase” in violence at abortion clinics in 2022, the year when Roe v. Wade was overturned, ending the federal right to an abortion. A disproportionate increase occurred in states that protect abortion rights, according to the National Abortion Federation, a professional association for abortion providers. In its annual report on violence, the federation says there were more major incidents at abortion clinics, including arson, burglaries, death threats and invasions last year than in 2021. There were decreases in trespassing and assault and battery, which the federation attributes to clinic closures. There were four cases of arson in 2022 – in Bakersfield, California, in March; Casper, Wyoming, in May; Kalamazoo, Michigan, in July; and Las Vegas in December – an increase from two in 2021. The report says there were 218 reports of deaths threats or threats of harm, an increase from 182 in 2021 and 57 in 2018. In 2022, reports of stalking providers and patients grew to 92 from 28 in 2021, and reported burglaries grew to 43 from 13. For the first time since 2011, facilities reported receiving suspicious letters containing a white powdery substance. The federation says it has tracked violence and disruption at reproductive health facilities since 1977. It collects monthly reports from facilities – 80% reported data for the new report – and follows up to collect complete reports. Some closed clinics weren’t able to report data in 2022 and others reported for only part of the year. The 2022 report includes data from the US, Canada and Colombia, while 2021 data also includes Mexico City. The federation says it does not include incidents that can’t be validated, “which suggests that actual incidents are higher than reported.”
Vermont Governor Signs Bills Protecting Access to Abortion, Gender-Affirming Care
The Hill, May 10, 2023
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, on Wednesday signed into law legislation hailed by LGBTQ rights groups as one of the nation’s most comprehensive transgender and reproductive health care packages. Together, Vermont’s House Bill 89 and Senate Bill 37, both of which were signed into law Wednesday by Scott, establish a slate of protections for both providers and seekers of gender affirming health care, as well as those seeking or administering abortions. Scott is the second Republican governor to sign legislation explicitly protecting access to gender-affirming health care and abortion into law after former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) signed a similar bill last year. House Bill 89, introduced in January by a group of Democratic legislators including state Rep. Taylor Small, Vermont’s first and only openly transgender lawmaker, declares that access to gender-affirming and reproductive health care is legally protected under Vermont state law. “Interference with legally protected healthcare activity, whether or not under the color of law, is against the public policy of this State,” reads the measure, which will take effect in September. House Bill 89 additionally shields individuals seeking either gender-affirming health care or an abortion, as well their doctors, from civil or criminal litigation in another state if either service is administered in Vermont. Eighteen states have enacted laws or policies that ban gender-affirming health care for transgender youth, according to the Movement Advancement Project, including 15 that have done so this year. In three states, administering gender-affirming health care to a minor is a felony crime, punishable by up to a decade in prison. At least 13 states have enacted laws or policies that ban abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health and rights organization. Under the second bill signed Wednesday by Scott, Senate Bill 37, health insurers in Vermont are required to provide coverage for gender-affirming and reproductive health care. The measure, which will also take effect in September, provides additional protections for doctors against disciplinary action or increased malpractice insurance premiums for administering either service.
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