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After Judge Blocks Abortion Pill Mifepristone, Mississippi’s Most Powerful Women Rejoice

U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Attorney General Lynn Fitch, both blonde women dressed up for an event and posing together
U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, left, and Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, right, praised a federal judge’s April 7, 2023, order to reverse the FDA’s approval of the abortion drug mifepristone nationwide. Photo courtesy AG Lynn Fitch

Mississippi’s two highest-ranking women leaders, U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, rejoiced over the weekend after a Texas federal judge blocked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. Unless a higher court blocks the ruling, the decision would suspend access to abortion pills nationwide by April 14, including in states where abortion remains legal.

The judge, Trump-appointee Matthew Kacsmaryk, paused his ruling from taking effect for seven days to give the federal government time to appeal.

“Today’s ruling on abortion drugs is a victory for pregnant mothers & their unborn children,” Hyde-Smith, who is a Republican and the first woman from Mississippi to serve in Congress, tweeted after the ruling came down on Friday, April 7. “I’m grateful the Court reined in the (FDA) for recklessly violating the law & jeopardizing patient safety.”

Kacsmaryk’s ruling says he blocked mifepristone’s approval because of concerns over the FDA’s review process; the Amarillo-based judge referred to it as a drug designed “to kill the unborn human,” using language common among anti-abortion activists. Despite his and Hyde-Smith’s claims, however, studies have found that mifepristone is safer than more common drugs like penicillin, Tylenol and Viagra.

Fitch’s office served as lead counsel on a February 2023 friend-of-the-court brief asking Kacsmaryk to reverse the FDA’s authorization of mifepristone, arguing that efforts to broaden access to mifepristone “will undermine States’ laws” and that “the FDA’s actions will force States to devote scarce resources to investigating and prosecuting violations of their laws.”

Justice Department Appealing Ruling

Hours after the ruling in the case, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed to appeal the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The Justice Department strongly disagrees with the decision of the District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA and will be appealing the court’s decision and seeking a stay pending appeal,” Garland said in an April 7 statement. “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.”

U.S. Department of Justice Merrick Garland speaking at a press conference
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the U.S. Department of Justice “will be appealing the court’s decision and seeking a stay pending appeal” in an April 7, 2023 statement. Photo courtesy US Department of Justice/File

Before he took office, Trump vowed to appoint anti-abortion judges to the nation’s federal courts in order to overturn Roe v. Wade. Over four years, he appointed 234 judges, including three to the U.S. Supreme Court and six to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

If the ruling does take effect, it will leave just one abortion drug, misoprostol, on the market. But because Mississippi already has a broad abortion ban in place, the decision would have little impact on legal access to abortion medication in the state. However, mifepristone is also used for non-abortion treatments, including for people with Cushing’s syndrome and uterine leiomyomas.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, whose office successfully argued for the overturning of abortion rights in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Women’s Health Organization, praised Kacsmaryk’s ruling in a tweet that said “the FDA’s approval of chemical abortion was flawed.” She also noted that “a federal court in WA also faulted FDA’s actions.”

The Washington ruling, however, is at odds with the one Kacsmaryk issued hours earlier; Judge Thomas O. Rice, an Obama appointee, ordered the FDA not to make any changes that would affect access to mifepristone in 17 Democratic-led states and the District of Columbia. It remains unclear how the FDA will respond to the conflicting rulings.

Christian Org Behind Dobbs Law Involved In Texas Case

The attorneys who led the Texas case over mifepristone represent the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization with significant ties to Christian dominionists. Years before the Dobbs ruling, the ADF orchestrated a plan to work with state lawmakers to pass a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi in hopes of getting a Roe v. Wade “test case” to the U.S. Supreme Court at a time when then-President Donald Trump was busy reshaping it.

“We have a plan to make Roe irrelevant or completely reverse it,” Kevin Theriot, the vice president of the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Center for Life, told a crowd of anti-abortion activists at the Evangelicals for Life Conference in Washington, D.C., in January 2018, as Right Wing Watch reported at the time.

a photo of Lynn Fitch surrounded by anti-abortion activists
Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, seen here speaking to a crowd outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, after the justices heard arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, argued for the overturning of Roe v. Wade with assistance from the Alliance Defending Freedom. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

In response to the Mississippi Free Press’ request for comment in December 2021, the ADF confirmed that it had “worked with legislators in Mississippi to protect life” and said it “is typical for legislators to reach out to legal organizations that have relevant experience when drafting legislation.”

The plan worked, and ADF attorneys assisted Fitch as her team successfully argued for the overturn of Roe v. Wade in December 2021. After the summer 2022 decision, Mississippi moved swiftly to shut down the state’s only abortion clinic and implemented a near-total abortion ban.

Ahead of the Dobbs ruling, state organizations that support abortion rights ramped up efforts to educate residents about obtaining mifepristone and misoprostol pills by mail and self-managing their own abortions. But in legal filings against a generic mifepristone manufacturer last year, Fitch claimed that mailing abortion pills is illegal in Mississippi. The company, GenBioPro Inc., dropped its lawsuit days later, ending an effort to block Mississippi’s abortion trigger law from preventing it from selling mifepristone in the state.

In remarks to the Mississippi Free Press last year, New York-based Center For Reproductive Rights Director of State Policy and Advocacy Elisabeth Smith said “medication abortion has been scientifically proven to be a safe and effective method to terminate a pregnancy.”

“Restrictions against mifepristone and misoprostol are medically unnecessary and are based on misinformation. … Restrictions on abortion have nothing to do with people’s health but instead threaten the wellbeing of communities across the country,” Smith said.

Since last summer, Mississippians have had to travel out-of-state for abortions, including a teen rape victim who said she traveled 500 miles to for care.

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