Texas-based federal judge Matthew Kacsmaryk on Friday issued a ruling aiming to suspend the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone, a common abortion drug approved for use 23 years ago that has been consistently found to be safe and effective.
It is widely believed that the anti-abortion groups who brought the case challenging the FDA’s authorization of the drug did so in Amarillo, Texas, so that it would be certain to land on the desk of this particular judge. Kacsmaryk, who was appointed by Donald Trump, is known for disregarding precedent and for weighing in on the far-right side of culture war issues.
Kacsmaryk’s 67-page decision – a preliminary ruling that will be appealed and is likely to wind its way up to the supreme court – makes plain that the strategy paid off. His decision employs the same rhetoric that has been deliberately seeded over decades by the anti-abortion movement. Some examples are below.
In the very first footnote to the decision, Kacsmaryk sets the tone for the opinion, explaining he why he will use “unborn human” or “unborn child” throughout his ruling:
Jurists often use the word “fetus” to inaccurately identify unborn humans in unscientific ways. The word “fetus” refers to a specific gestational stage of development, as opposed to the zygote, blastocyst, or embryo stages … Because other jurists use the terms “unborn human” or “unborn child” interchangeably, and because both terms are inclusive of the multiple gestational stages relevant to the FDA Approval, 2016 Changes, and 2021 Changes, this Court uses “unborn human” or “unborn child” terminology throughout this Order, as appropriate.
‘To kill the unborn human’
Mifepristone, the drug at the center of the case, works by blocking progesterone, a hormone required for a pregnancy to develop. It is approved by the FDA to be taken up until 10 weeks of pregnancy and is generally used in conjunction with misoprostol, which causes the uterus to contract. This is how Kacsmaryk describes this two-pill regimen, which together account for more than half the abortions in the US:
Because mifepristone alone will not always complete the abortion, FDA mandates a two-step drug regimen: mifepristone to kill the unborn human, followed by misoprostol to induce cramping and contractions to expel the unborn human from the mother’s womb.
‘Shame, regret, anxiety, depression’
The anti-abortion movement is known to champion the idea that people who have abortions come to be plagued by regret – an idea promoted by former supreme court justice Anthony Kennedy in a 2007 decision, even as he admitted there’s “no reliable data to measure the phenomenon”. But reliable data finally came in 2020, with the landmark Turnaway Study, which spent five years following nearly 1,000 women who sought abortions. The study found that 95% of women who had abortions reported five years later that it had been the right decision for them.
Kacsmaryk, however, writes:
Women who have aborted a child – especially through chemical abortion drugs that necessitate the woman seeing her aborted child once it passes – often experience shame, regret, anxiety, depression, drug abuse and suicidal thoughts because of the abortion.
Kacsmaryk also writes that any consideration of alleged damage caused by the abortion pill should extend to the fetus. This is a nod to the radical idea of “fetal personhood” – that embryos and fetuses are people entitled to the full protection of the US constitution. That argument presumes abortion to be murder, and were it to take hold in the legal system, could lead to a national ban on the procedure. Invoking the name of the US supreme court decision which eliminated federal abortion rights, he writes:
Parenthetically, said “individual justice” and “irreparable injury” analysis also arguably applies to the unborn humans extinguished by mifepristone – especially in the post-Dobbs era.
The groups that brought the case ruled on by Kacsmaryk aim to revive a long dormant, 150-year-old anti-obscenity law called the Comstock Act, which prohibited sending abortifacients in the mail. Kacsmaryk’s decision indeed revives that law – and some experts fear his logic could extend to more abortion methods and even lead to a national ban.
This purported “consensus view” is that the Comstock Act does not prohibit the mailing of items designed to produce abortions “where the sender does not intend them to be used unlawfully”. Id. This argument is unpersuasive for several reasons … In any case, the Comstock Act plainly forecloses mail-order abortion in the present … the law is plain.
Abortion as eugenics
Kacsmaryk also quotes conservative US supreme court justice Clarence Thomas, who has linked abortion to eugenics, the belief in selective breeding to produce a superior society. In rejecting research pointing to worse psychosocial and financial outcomes for children of people denied abortions, he also seems to draw a line between abortion and the worst atrocities of the last century:
(“[A]bortion has proved to be a disturbingly effective tool for implementing the discriminatory preferences that undergird eugenics.”) Though eugenics were once fashionable in the Commanding Heights and High Court, they hold less purchase after the conflict, carnage and casualties of the last century revealed the bloody consequences of Social Darwinism practiced by would-be Übermenschen.
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