Speed Reads

Dueling Rulings

Competing federal rulings spell trouble for abortion pill access

The legality of mifepristone, a key abortion drug, was called into question on Friday as a pair of competing rulings by federal judges has thrown a wrench into the pill's availability.

Texas-based U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, ruled that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had violated a federal rule allowing fast-tracked approval for certain drugs, and suspended the FDA's authorization of mifepristone. However, he noted in his opinion that the Biden administration had seven days to appeal his verdict.

However, just minutes later, Washington state-based U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice, appointed by former President Barack Obama, issued a ruling directly contradicting Kacsmaryk's verdict, in a case brought by 17 states seeking to stop the FDA from pulling mifepristone. Rice ordered the FDA not to make any changes to the drug's approval, and NPR noted that his ruling blocked the agency from "altering the status quo and rights as it relates to the availability of mifepristone." 

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson told NPR that Rice's ruling could allow patients in those 17 states to keep using mifepristone in the short term, even if Kacsmaryk's opinion is enacted. 

"If you live in Washington State or one of the 17 states that joined Washington in our lawsuit...then the judge's ruling in our case preserves the status quo on ensuring that access to mifepristone remains available," Ferguson said. He added, though, that for people not in one of those 17 states, Kacsmaryk's decision "seriously has the potential to eliminate that access for mifepristone here in the coming days."

The Biden administration has already appealed Kacsmaryk's verdict, and USA Today reported that the situation seems destined for argument before the nation's Supreme Court justices, which could further limit abortion access following the rollback of Roe v. Wade.