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Stateside Podcast: Dueling rulings on medication abortion

Robin Marty via Flickr

Last week, U.S. District Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk in Texas blocked the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone, a drug used for medication abortion, among other things.

Leah Litman – a professor of law at the University of Michigan – wrote an article for Slate on the recent decision, saying the judicial opinion contained blatantly anti-abortion language.

“The opinion is laced with some of the most apparent anti-abortion rhetoric, you know, you could really expect from a judge,” Litman said in an interview on Stateside. “It describes mifepristone as starving an unborn human.”

Mifepristone was first approved by the FDA in 2000. The federal agency – and other organizations like the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists – have maintained the drug is safe.

Since the ruling on Friday, President Joe Biden as well as other political leaders have criticized the decision. The same day of the ruling, U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice issued an opposing decision in Washington State, ordering the FDA to uphold access to mifepristone. This ruling applies to 17 states, including Michigan, and the District of Columbia, whose attorneys sued the FDA to stop the agency from limiting access to the drug.

These contradictory rulings come less than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson which overturned the longstanding federal protection for abortion access established in Roe v. Wade.

Litman said all of this will likely mean that the question of mifepristone will reach the U.S. Supreme Court. But in the interim, she said, it’s hard to predict what will happen.

“I think even if, you know, state leaders and federal leaders say we are not going to prosecute or initiate any kind of enforcement proceedings against manufacturers, distributors, doctors who prescribe mifepristone, the reality is that doctors are going to have to look around the world and make a calculus about how safe they feel prescribing this drug,” Litman said.

In Michigan, Governor Whitmer has assured that the drug will remain safe and legal in the state. The state’s attorney general, Dana Nessel, was also among those who signed onto the lawsuit in Washington ruled on by Judge Rice.

On the Stateside Podcast, hear more about what this latest federal court ruling means for Michigan, where abortion has been codified in the state Constitution.

[Get Stateside on your phone: subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify today.]

Looking for more conversations from Stateside? Right this way.

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"Perpetuo" Written by Jody Jenkins
"Thinking About It" Written by Alexander L'Estrange
Courtesy of Audio Network

Other music from Blue Dot Sessions

Correction: A previous version of this story referred to Leah Litman as "Laura Litman."

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Ronia Cabansag is a producer for Stateside. She comes to Michigan Public from Eastern Michigan University, where she earned a BS in Media Studies & Journalism and English Linguistics with a minor in Computer Science.
Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.