Politics and Government

Abortion drug still available in Minnesota despite conflicting rulings

A pill sits on a table in a box.
The abortion drug mifepristone was the subject of two conflicting federal court decisions late last week.
Phil Walter | Getty Images 2006

Updated 3 p.m.

People seeking an abortion in Minnesota will still be able to get the drug mifepristone — at least for now — after a pair of federal judges issued conflicting rulings last week on the medication.

Dueling rulings from Texas and Washington put the future of the drug in question and are expected to tee up an intervention from the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Minnesota, abortion access advocates on Monday said the ruling striking the FDA approval of the medication after more than 20 years on the market set a dangerous precedent. And they said it could impact Minnesota providers’ ability to prescribe mifepristone moving forward.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the effect of this, if allowed to stand, would be to turn back the clock on reproductive rights and law by more than a century. It should be thoroughly unacceptable to anyone and everyone who values the personal freedom and individual rights that are supposed to be the bedrock of American society,” said Gender Justice Executive Director Megan Peterson.

“They are coming for it all: abortion, contraception and many other rights and health services that are essential to everyone's individual ability to determine their own reproductive destiny,” she said. “And we must make clear that Minnesotans will not stand for it.”

Abortion providers in Minnesota said they would continue offering mifepristone as part of the medication abortion prescriptions at least through the end of the week. At that point, the Texas ruling could take effect, barring use of the drug nationwide.

“Patients can still get their medication abortion in the next week with mifepristone, and moving forward we have an alternate medication regimen if mifepristone is no longer available,” Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said. “While we have an alternate option for medication abortion, these choices should be made between a patient and a doctor.”

Texas U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in his ruling said the FDA failed to consider the psychological impact of medical abortion, as well as the potential to develop post-traumatic stress disorder as a result. He ruled the FDA’s approval should be removed.

The American Psychiatric Association has noted people who abort a pregnancy are not more likely to develop mental health issues like PTSD, and instead, studies show patients denied access to abortion services have reported more adverse mental and physical health issues.

Also on Friday, Washington U.S. District Judge Thomas Owen Rice ruled that some restrictions should be lifted on the drug and that the FDA be required to keep it on the market — at least in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

Because Minnesota was among the states that sued over restrictions on the drug, the FDA can’t change its rules affecting access to mifepristone here.

Gov. Tim Walz said state officials will do all they can to ensure that people can continue to access abortion services in Minnesota. However, Walz said he had concerns about stockpiling abortion-inducing medications, as some other states had, out of concerns for leaving other states without resources they might need. The second-term DFLer said the Texas ruling could have broad ramifications.

“We're a country that goes by rule of law, but this makes a mockery of that. Whatever drug you're all taking right now, be very clear that any federal judge could pop up and say you can't have that now,” he told reporters. “You name what that drug would be. That's what the implications are.” 

The U.S. Department of Justice and mifepristone manufacturer Danco have filed notices of their intent to appeal the Texas ruling and the Department of Justice sought an extended stay on the ruling. And because the two rulings are at odds, they could quickly come before the U.S. Supreme Court for clarification.

Leaders of the legislative Reproductive Freedom Caucus on Monday said they would push to pass measures that provide legal protections for people that travel to the state for abortions and those who provide them. They also said there was a new urgency to strike some existing restrictions on abortion.

“We can't just sort of take it lying down, that a single judge in Texas can remove access to a safe, tested proven medication on his own,” Sen. Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville, said. “This will be more dangerous, it will be more painful for women to have medication abortions, the effective rate is lower. This is not better healthcare.”

State actions would not supersede federal rulings that could direct the FDA.

The anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life on Monday applauded the Texas judge’s ruling.

“The ruling in Texas is great news for women and babies,” the group’s Co-executive Director Cathy Blaeser said in a news release, noting concerns about the drug and its potential to be mailed to end a pregnancy. “Judge Kacsmaryk is right to recognize the major flaws in mifepristone’s approval process and to take this dangerous drug off the market before it harms more women and girls.”

Abortion opponents have opposed the Minnesota measures on abortion, saying they go too far and would eliminate decades-old requirements that they say keep patients safe. Supporters argue that they would strike onerous and outdated requirements for patients and providers.

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