A federal judge in Texas has stayed the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a leading abortion drug, which could suspend how roughly half of abortions are done nationwide. The ruling, issued by Donald Trump–nominated US District Court judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, serves as yet another major blow to abortion access in the United States, in what could soon be one of the most far-reaching limits on the procedure since the fall of Roe v. Wade. The judge did provide the federal government seven days to seek emergency relief, meaning the drug won’t be pulled off the shelves immediately.
More than two decades after the drug, mifepristone, was first deemed safe by the federal agency, Kacsmaryk wrote in his decision that the “FDA’s approval of mifepristone is hereby STAYED. The Court STAYS the applicability of this opinion and order for seven (7) days to allow the federal government time to seek emergency relief from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.” Mifepristone is one of two drugs used in a medication abortion. The other drug used in medication abortions, misoprostol, has gone unchallenged in this suit and is legal.
The mifepristone case has been closely watched by both sides of the abortion debate since the lawsuit against the FDA was filed back in November. The suit was brought by conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of four doctors who have said they’ve prescribed mifepristone, as well as four antiabortion medical organizations. Medication abortion has been a top target of antiabortion activists and lawmakers since the Supreme Court removed federal protections for abortion last summer. The “FDA failed America’s women and girls when it chose politics over science and approved chemical abortion drugs for use in the United States,” the lawsuit said, arguing that the government agency shouldn’t have expedited the approval process for the medication.
In a hearing last month, lawyers for the FDA argued that blocking access to the drug “would cause worse health outcomes for patients who rely on the availability of mifepristone to safely and effectively terminate their pregnancies,” and if banned, it could cause “real and significant harms” to patients seeking abortion care. But the argument failed to convince Kacsmaryk, though it perhaps contributed to his decision to allow the government one week to respond.
While significant, the ruling was expected. Appointed by Trump in 2019, Kacsmaryk, a product of a conservative legal pipeline, has had a say in a number of right-wing suits targeting Biden administration policies. Abortion rights advocates argued that it was no coincidence the mifepristone case landed in his docket. Kacsmaryk, despite assertions of his impartiality, has delivered a series of legal victories for Republicans, including on immigration, where he twice blocked the Biden administration from ending the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy and on LGBTQ+ issues, where he struck down protections for transgender individuals.