President Biden vowed to fight a ruling from a conservative judge in Texas that could block a widely used abortion drug, thrusting the issue of reproductive rights back into the spotlight ahead of the 2024 election.
“If this ruling were to stand, then there will be virtually no prescription, approved by the FDA, that would be safe from these kinds of political, ideological attacks,” Biden said in a statement late Friday. “It is the next big step toward the national ban on abortion that Republican elected officials have vowed to make law in America.”
Biden’s statement came among a wave of condemnations from Democrats, and as the fate of the pill, mifepristone, remained unclear. The Texas ruling, issued by US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, was followed almost immediately by a separate order that affirmed the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the drug and blocked the government from restricting access.
Vice President Kamala Harris said the Texas decision threatens women’s rights nationwide and ripples beyond abortion rights.
“This decision undermines the FDA’s ability to approve safe and effective medication,” she said in a separate statement. “Our Administration will continue to fight to protect reproductive freedom and the ability of all Americans to make health care decisions with their doctors free from political interference.”
The Supreme Court’s move to strike down Roe v. Wade last year opened up fresh legal challenges, as Democrats pledged to fight against the rollback of abortion access or similar care, while some Republicans sought to further curtail access.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said the government will appeal the decision and seek a stay pending appeal. “Today’s decision overturns the FDA’s expert judgment, rendered over two decades ago, that mifepristone is safe and effective. The Department will continue to defend the FDA’s decision,” Garland said.
Still, Biden warned that it’s ultimately Congress that has the power to restore the protections of Roe.
“Let’s be clear – the only way to stop those who are committed to taking away women’s rights and freedoms in every state is to elect a Congress who will pass a law restoring Roe versus Wade,” he said.
Other Democrats also joined in a cascade of outcry. “Today’s ruling is another massive step towards Republicans’ goal of a nationwide abortion ban and could throw our country into chaos,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “This ruling from an activist judge is wildly out of step with the law and sets a dangerous new precedent.”
Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, meanwhile, urged the administration to ignore the ruling and keep the drug on the market. “No matter what happens in seven days, I believe the Food and Drug Administration has the authority to ignore this ruling, which is why I’m again calling on President Biden and the FDA to do just that,” he said in a written statement.
Republicans were more muted on an issue that hurt them in the 2022 midterm elections; many said after last year’s Supreme Court decision that the abortion issue should be decided by the states.
One Republican who enthusiastically embraced the ruling was former Vice President Mike Pence, who’s weighing his own bid for the party’s presidential nomination.
“Life won again today,” he said. “When it approved chemical abortions on demand, the FDA acted carelessly and with blatant disregard for human life and the wellbeing of American women, and today’s ruling fixed a 20-year wrong.”
Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, meanwhile, tweeted the ruling was “a victory for pregnant mothers & their unborn children.”
The preliminary injunction issued Friday by Kacsmaryk, who was appointed by Donald Trump, could soon end the sale and distribution of mifepristone — used as part of a two-pill regimen to terminate a pregnancy within the first 10 weeks — while a lawsuit seeking a more permanent ban on the drug proceeds.
Kacsmaryk’s order will not go into effect for seven days, giving the Biden administration time to appeal his decision to the New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considered one of the most conservative courts in the country.
Separately in Washington state, US District Judge Thomas Rice, an appointee of Barack Obama, granted a request by several Democratic-leaning states for an order affirming FDA approval of mifepristone and blocking the government from further restricting its distribution. It’s unclear how the opposing rulings will affect each other.
Kacsmaryk’s decision is sure to further elevate abortion access as a potent political issue heading into the 2024 US elections. Medication abortion has become the most common method in the country as states grapple with how to legislate reproductive rights in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
With assistance from Steven T. Dennis and Madlin Mekelburg.