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3 States Are Stockpiling Abortion Pills After Far Right Court Ruling

Democratic governors are positioning their states as abortion havens as right-wingers attack access.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a press conference on February 1, 2023, in Sacramento, California.

Democratic governors in three states have announced that their states will be stockpiling abortion pills after a far right federal judge issued a sweeping ruling on Friday aimed at taking mifepristone — a drug used for abortions and management of Cushing’s syndrome — off the shelves nationwide.

On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced that the state has negotiated a contract to obtain 2 million pills of misoprostol, a drug typically used in combination with mifepristone to induce a miscarriage, but which can also be used on its own for abortions. Newsom said that the move is aimed at even further protecting abortion access in the state, which has positioned itself as an abortion haven.

“In response to this extremist ban on a medication abortion drug, our state has secured a stockpile of an alternative medication abortion drug to ensure that Californians continue to have access to safe reproductive health treatments,” Newsom said in a statement. “We will not cave to extremists who are trying to outlaw these critical abortion services. Medication abortion remains legal in California.”

While the governor’s office acknowledged in a press release that the combination of the two drugs is slightly more effective and free of side effects than a misoprostol-only abortion, it does not say if the state is planning to stockpile mifepristone, the drug that could potentially be removed as a result of Friday’s ruling.

There is no imminent threat of a broad ban of misoprostol, though far right District Judge Matthew Kascmaryk’s ruling opens the door for future attacks on all Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drugs, as Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern has noted.

Massachusetts and Washington are also planning to stockpile abortion drugs, though they are buying doses of mifepristone. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced last week that the state already purchased 30,000 doses of mifepristone in anticipation of the ruling, which the state received in late March. The stockpile is enough to last Washington three years.

Meanwhile, also on Monday, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey (D) announced that her state is purchasing about 15,000 doses of mifepristone, enough to last about a year. Healey, a former Massachusetts attorney general, pledged that her state would resist efforts to outlaw the drug.

“I know the odds in this case,” she said. “I know the legal landscape, which is why what this judge [in Texas] did is a sham and I am not the least bit concerned about [legal] liability.”

Mifepristone is currently still available in states where abortion is legal. The drug is also used for purposes other than abortion, like cervical ripening for insertion of certain types of birth control, and has been shown time and again to be safe when used in combination with misoprostol for abortions.

The future of the drug is currently unclear. Legal analysts have said that there is essentially no legal thrust behind Kascmaryk’s reasoning in ruling that the FDA was wrong to approve the drug in 2000, pointing out, for instance, that the statute of limitations to challenge the approval ended 17 years ago. Almost immediately after Kascmaryk’s ruling, a Washington judge ordered authorities not to restrict access to the drug, setting the stage for a conflict that will almost certainly reach the Supreme Court.

Democrats have been urging the FDA to ignore Kascmaryk’s ruling entirely, and have said that the decision is a show of the corruption embedded in the U.S.’s judicial system.

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