By Paul Weber
The Justice Department on Monday appealed a Texas court ruling that would halt approval of the most commonly used method of abortion in the U.S., calling the decision “extraordinary and unprecedented."
The request to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was filed just days after conflicting court rulings over the legality of the abortion medication mifepristone put in doubt access to the drug that has been widely available for more than 20 years.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, an appointee of Donald Trump, issued his decision Friday but ruled it would not take effect for seven days. The Biden administration asked the New Orleans-based appellate court to extend the pause on the Texas order.
“If allowed to take effect, the court’s order would thwart FDA’s scientific judgment and severely harm women, particularly those for whom mifepristone is a medical or practical necessity,” the Justice Department wrote.
Kacsmaryk's decision came at nearly the same time a separate federal judge in the state of Washington directed U.S. authorities not to make any changes that would restrict access to the drug in at least 17 states where Democrats had sued.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of mifepristone in 2000.
The whiplash of the conflicting decisions is likely to put the issue on an accelerated path to the Supreme Court.
Underlining that confusion, the Justice Department on Monday also separately asked the federal court in Washington state for clarity since that ruling and the one in Texas were issued just 20 minutes apart.
The abortion drug has been widely used in the U.S. since securing FDA approval and there is essentially no precedent for a lone judge overruling that agency's medical decisions. Mifepristone is one of two drugs used for medication abortion in the United States, along with misoprostol, which is also used to treat other medical conditions.
Many providers have to wait and see what legal filings are made between now and Friday before deciding what to do next, Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, told reporters.
If the ruling takes effect, some providers are prepared to pivot to a misoprostol-only regimen while others may transition to only surgical abortions.
“We don’t know exactly what will happen” in the courts, Dalven said. “What we do know is that there will be significant confusion and chaos as providers try to provide the best care they possibly can for their patients.”
Associated Press reporter Amanda Seitz in Washington contributed to this report.
UPDATES: This story has been updated with more details from the ruling.