Attorney General Curtis Hill has joined colleagues in nine states in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse lower court rulings that had cleared the way for women to gain access to an abortion pill without a visit to a doctor.
The amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief said that blocking the Food and Drug Administration’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies drug safety program, or REMS, could lead to grave harm for women. The REMS regulations require that the abortion medication be dispensed in a clinic, medical office or hospital; that clinicians must be certified in order to prescribe the pill; and that patients sign an FDA-approved agreement before receiving the medication.
“The rules governing chemical abortions are designed to protect women’s health,” Hill said in a press release Monday. “They are fully enforceable and safe to follow during the current pandemic. Federal courts should not use COVID-19 as an excuse to interfere with the FDA’s long-established and well-considered procedures.”
Solicitor General Thomas Fisher said that the work has been led by Hill in conjunction with Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.
“We want the Supreme Court to realize that states have something at stake here, too,” Fisher said.
Fisher said he and his colleagues are concerned about the effects of the decision on Indiana’s abortion regulations, which require that free-standing clinics that perform abortions be licensed to perform the procedure.
The original lawsuit challenging the FDA’s regulation was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several medical organizations in federal court in Maryland on May 27. It specifically asked the court to overturn the requirement of an in-person visit to a hospital, clinic or medical office to be prescribed mifepristone—brand name Mifeprex—be suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mifepristone, while often used for abortion, is also used to help women manage miscarriages.
U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang of Maryland issued the injunction on July 13, allowing women to acquire mifepristone through telehealth, including receiving it by mail. He had refused to allow Hill, Landry and the other attorneys general to intervene in the case.
In their lawsuit, the ACLU argued that in-person office visits are not medically necessary as the pill can be safely taken at home and all abortions caused by the pill occur at home. They also cited the growing COVID-19 infection numbers as a safety concern, saying many medical practices were taking steps to limit in-person patient contact.
In spite of the medical consensus that the pill is safe to take at home, the FDA and others named in the lawsuit are “forcing patients to put themselves at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 as a condition of obtaining abortion or miscarriage care and needlessly raising exposure risks for clinicians and other health care staff,” the lawsuit said.
Across the nation, more the six million people have been diagnosed with the highly contagious virus and more than 180,000 people have died. In Indiana, the number of infections continue to grow. Monday, the Indiana State Department of Health reported 897 new positive cases for a total of 94,196 with 3,077 deaths.
The obstetrician and gynecologist group has said that more than three million women have used mifepristone and that a 300-mg formulation of mifepristone used to treat Cushing’s syndrome is not on the REMS list. The drug was approved by the FDA in 2000 and has been heavily regulated since.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement advocating for the removal of REMS regulations on mifepristone in June 2018 but narrowed the focus to the COVID-19 pandemic with the May lawsuit.
Taylor Wooten is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a website powered by Franklin College journalism students.