Democrats condemn judge’s ‘draconian’ decision threatening abortion drug | Abortion

Democrats angrily denounced as “dangerous” and “draconian” a decision by a Texas judge that threatens access to a widely used abortion medication, while demanding the Joe Biden White House do more to protect reproductive rights.

Nearly a quarter-century after the Food and Drug Administration approved the abortion pill mifepristone, the federal judge Matthew Kacsmaryk on Friday sought to invalidate the agency’s decision, handing down an unprecedented order that – if upheld – would severely restrict access to one of the most commonly used methods of terminating a pregnancy.

In a dueling court ruling, handed down moments after, a judge in Washington state contradicted the Texas decision, ordering the FDA to maintain the “status quo” availability of mifepristone.

With the future of access to medication abortion in potential jeopardy, even in states where the procedure remains legal, Democrats, reproductive rights advocates and providers vowed to keep fighting to protect the drug’s availability.

In a statement, Biden called the ruling the “next big step toward the national ban on abortion that Republican elected officials have vowed to make law in America” and pledged to fight Kacsmaryk’s decision. On Friday night, the justice department gave notice that it would appeal the Texas ruling and said it was reviewing the Washington decision.

The conflicting court orders left much uncertainty about the future of abortion access, probably elevating the issue to the US supreme court. With little faith in a majority conservative court that overturned Roe v Wade, Democrats are urging the administration to act more aggressively.

“Ignore this ruling,” the US senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat of Oregon, said, arguing that the FDA has the authority to disregard the decision by Kacsmaryk, who was appointed to the federal bench by the Donald Trump White House.

Wyden added: “The FDA, doctors, and pharmacies can and must go about their jobs like nothing has changed and keep mifepristone accessible to women across America.”

Mifepristone is the first pill in a two-drug medication abortion regimen, which is approved for use through the 10th week of pregnancy. More than half of abortions in the US rely on the medication, and the Texas decision, if allowed to stand, would have severe ramifications for access.

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Ron Wyden urged the FDA and doctors to ‘ignore this ruling’. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The president of the abortion rights group All* Above All, Morgan Hopkins, said Biden’s administration must “act immediately to ensure medication abortion care remains available, without interference from politicians or judges”.

Since the supreme court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion, administration officials have moved to expand access to abortion medication and protect patients seeking care who travel to states where the procedure is legal. But the White House has so far resisted calls from reproductive rights advocates to declare a public health emergency for abortion.

Biden has insisted, as he did again on Friday, that the “only way to stop those who are committed to taking away women’s rights and freedoms” is to elect candidates who will codify abortion protections into federal law.

The Texas ruling comes days after a liberal judge won a commanding victory to serve on the Wisconsin supreme court in a contest that underscored the enduring potency of abortion politics. The judge, Janet Protasiewicz, had effectively promised voters that if they elected her, flipping the ideological balance of the court from conservative to liberal, the new majority would overturn Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban.

Successive victories in favor of abortion rights from Kansas to Michigan have galvanized Democrats, who say the issue was key to their unexpectedly strong showing in last year’s midterms. The party plans to continue harnessing voter anger over the loss of federal abortion protections in upcoming elections.

“The Republican party is playing with fire,” said Cecile Richards, a former president of Planned Parenthood who is now a co-chair at American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic organization. “They have put their rightwing politics ahead of the health and wellbeing of American women. They are trying to strip Americans of our basic rights to control our bodies and our futures.”

Laphonza Butler, president of Emily’s List, said the group was “working overtime to replace Republicans up and down the ballot with Democratic pro-choice women who are committed to protecting our reproductive freedoms no matter what”.

Democrats were quick to cast the decision by Kacsmaryk, who had written critically of the Roe precedent, as part of a broader effort by conservatives to erode women’s reproductive rights.

“This judge’s ruling is bullshit,” tweeted Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat of Nevada who narrowly won re-election last year after making abortion rights a central issue of her campaign.

The Democratic Connecticut senator Chris Murphy added in a statement: “We cannot allow rightwing judges to ignore the science, and put the health, safety, and autonomy of millions of women at risk.”

And Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, the US House Democratic leader, said Republican efforts to restrict access to abortion care were “like a malignant tumor” spreading across the US.

Yet despite their fury, congressional Democrats see few legislative options. With Republicans in control of the House, and Senate Democrats unable to eliminate the 60-vote legislative filibuster, efforts to protect abortion access are all but certain to fall short.

Nevertheless, the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, said his caucus was “relentlessly working to protect a woman’s right to choose from this extreme … Republican agenda” and recommitted to passing the Women’s Health Protection Act, legislation that seeks to enshrine abortion protections in federal law. But the measure lacks enough support to overcome the filibuster.

In response to the Texas judge’s ruling, a number of Democrats renewed calls to eliminate the filibuster in the Senate, though they do not have enough support among their caucus to do so.

Some prominent conservatives celebrated Kacsmaryk’s decision. For instance, Trump’s vice-president, Mike Pence, said: “Life won again today”.

But some top Republicans, including Trump, the leading contender for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination, were silent late on Friday, reflecting a growing unease within the party about the political risks of overreaching on one of the most emotionally charged issues in American politics.

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