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Connecticut joins challenge to Texas judge’s ruling on abortion pill

Nancy Stanwood, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, speaks at a press conference Monday.
Mark Pazniokas
/
CT Mirror
Nancy Stanwood, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, speaks at a press conference Monday.

Days after a federal court judge issued a decision invalidating the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the abortion medication mifepristone, state officials in Connecticut vowed to continue fighting to keep the pill legal.

Attorney General William Tong is part of a multistate coalition challenging the ruling by Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the Northern District of Texas.

The challenge, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, urges the court to stay Kacsmaryk’s decision, which would reverse the F.D.A.’s 23-year-old approval of mifepristone, pending an appeal.

“You are left with the feeling and understanding that this is total bullshit,” a frustrated Tong said at a press conference Monday. “And it just reflects this ongoing, deep-seated, abiding, pervasive, pernicious misogyny in our law.

“We launched our own attack, our own counteroffensive, because we are not going to take this sitting down. I told you we would fight tooth and nail with everything we have, and we will.”

For now, the drug is legal and available in Connecticut. But the issue appears likely to reach the Supreme Court.

“For a woman of childbearing age, right now is a scary time,” said Manisha Juthani, the state’s public health commissioner. “You’re left trying to figure out what your future holds.

“A lot remains to be sorted out. That’ll take time. But right now, if you’re a patient who needs this type of care, seek it out.”

Here’s what to know about the court rulings and what’s happening in Connecticut.

What happened?

On Friday, Kacsmaryk issued a preliminary ruling declaring the F.D.A.’s approval of mifepristone in 2000 to be invalid, The New York Times reported. It also suspends the agency’s subsequent findings that broadened use of the medication to include terminating early pregnancies.

The same day, Judge Thomas Rice of the Eastern District of Washington ordered the F.D.A. to maintain the status quo and barred it from curtailing the availability of mifepristone in states that filed the lawsuit in that court, The Times reported. The lawsuit, brought by attorneys general in 16 states, including Connecticut, and the District of Columbia, challenged restrictions the F.D.A. already imposes on the prescribing and dispensing of the medication.

On Monday, the U.S. Justice Departmentasked a federal appeals court for a stay on the decision to halt access to mifepristone. Tong and more than 20 other attorneys general also filed a legal challenge Monday to Kacsmaryk’s ruling, seeking a stay.

What is mifepristone?

Mifepristone is a medication that blocks progesterone, which is needed for pregnancy to continue. When used with another drug called misoprostol, it can end a pregnancy through 10 weeks gestation (70 days or less since the first day of the last menstrual period), according to the F.D.A.

“The medical evidence is overwhelming that mifepristone for early medication abortion is safe and effective, with an enviable safety record of 99% safety,” said Nancy Stanwood, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England. “It has been used by more than 5 million people in the U.S. since its FDA approval in 2000 to safely end an unwanted pregnancy. Mifepristone is safer than common medications like penicillin, Tylenol, and yes, Viagra.”

While physicians have agreed that a two-medicine regimen — mifepristone followed by misoprostol — is the safest and most effective form of medication abortion, misoprostol alone is also a safe and effective form of medication abortion, Tong said in a statement.

Is mifepristone still available in Connecticut?

Yes, for now. State leaders have pledged to fight efforts to curb access, and health officials have condemned Friday’s ruling.

“Medication abortion with mifepristone remains legal and available in all 14 of our health care centers in Connecticut,” Stanwood said Monday. “We believe deeply in the right of all people, no matter who they are, where they live or what they earn, to make their own personal decisions about their bodies.”

How many people in CT use the drug?

In 2021, there were 9,562 abortions performed in Connecticut. Of those, nearly 64% were medication abortion using mifepristone, according to Tong’s office.

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, Connecticut has seen a 30% increase in people coming from out of state for an abortion, Stanwood said.

What happens next?

Legal experts say the cases will likely head to the Supreme Court.

If mifepristone becomes unavailable, health officials said, misoprostol could still be used.

“We could still provide an alternative for medication abortion with misoprostol only. It’s not as effective, and the side effects are more,” Stanwood said. “So it’s certainly not what I want for my patients. I want them to be able to access the most effective method so they can complete their medication abortion effectively, quickly and safely.”

Launched in 2010, The Connecticut Mirror specializes in in-depth news and reporting on public policy, government and politics. CT Mirror is nonprofit, non-partisan, and digital only.