New York pols mobilize against Texas court ruling that could ban medication abortion

Boxes of abortion drug mifepristone
Boxes of the drug mifepristone sit on a shelf at the West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala., March 16, 2022. A federal judge in Texas on Friday, April 7, 2023, ordered a hold on the U.S. approval of the abortion medication mifepristone, throwing into question access to the nation’s most common method of abortion in a ruling that waved aside decades of scientific approval. Federal lawyers representing the FDA are expected to swiftly appeal the ruling.
Allen G. Breed/AP

New York elected officials are unifying to protect a woman’s right to abortion medication after the latest federal court ruling put such access in jeopardy across the country.

Governor Kathy Hochul, Mayor Eric Adams, Attorney General Letitia James, and Speaker Adrienne Adams all reassured New Yorkers in recent days that they will fight the court ruling and continue supporting abortion in the days to come.

Last Friday, April 7, federal judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled in the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA court case that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone is illegal. The Justice Department has since appealed the ruling, which could eventually make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court — whose conservative majority last year overturned the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade ruling protecting reproductive rights. 

Hochul announced on April 11 during a virtual conference organized by Planned Parenthood of Greater New York that the state’s Department of Health will immediately begin purchasing and stockpiling a five-year supply, equivalent to 150,000 doses, of misoprostol.

Mifepristone is a medication that prevents pregnancy by blocking a hormone called progesterone within 10 weeks from an individual’s last period. Misoprostol is typically used in combination with mifepristone, but can also be used by itself, according to the World Health Organization. 

“When it comes to reproductive freedom in this country, we are right now facing historic, horrific setbacks,” Hochul said at the conference. “Now, the MAGA anti-abortion extremists, legislators, and judges alike are hell-bent on continuing down this path. They’re coming after all forms of reproductive health care.”

Attorney General James formed a multi-state coalition with 22 attorneys general in March to defend and protect access to medication abortion nationwide. The coalition filed an amicus brief to inform the ruling court, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, of the impacts to millions of people if the court withdrew federal approval for mifepristone.

The coalition asked the court to reject the challenge to the FDA approval brought by anti-abortion groups, including Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine and Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group based in Arizona.

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Erik Baptist spoke in a statement on April 12 regarding a response that ADF attorneys filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit asking the court to maintain last Friday’s ruling.

Said Baptist: “The FDA put politics ahead of the health of women and girls when it failed to study how dangerous this drug regimen is and when it removed every meaningful safeguard that it previously implemented. The FDA should have to answer for the damage it has done to the rule of law and the harm it has caused to countless women and girls.”

‘A cruel and inhumane decision’

More than 2,000 women had medication abortions at NYC Health + Hospitals facilities last year, according to Annais Morales, spokesperson for NYC Health + Hospitals. The city recently expanded abortion access in January, becoming the first health department in the country to provide medication abortion for free at city-run health clinics.

Adams called the court ruling “a cruel and inhumane decision” and ensured that the city’s Department of Health and the public hospital system will provide access to abortion options.

“The ruling could make it even harder for people to access an abortion, even here in New York City, and is a clear act of war on women,” said Adams following last Friday’s ruling.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said at the virtual Planned Parenthood conference that the city will unite to defend medication abortion.

“The council will continue to safeguard and expand access to abortion and reproductive reproductive health care so that everyone has the right to self determination and can make the best decisions for themselves,” Adams said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration initially approved mifepristone in 2000 to block gestation up to seven weeks. The FDA then approved mifepristone for up to 10 weeks gestation in 2016. Mifepristone is used in combination with the hormonal drug misoprostol. Since 2019, the FDA has approved a generic version of mifepristone called Mifeprex. Mifepristone is approved in roughly 80 countries including France, China, and the United Kingdom. 

Medication abortions accounted for more than half of abortion procedures in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention’s Abortion Surveillance Report published in 2022. New York State logged 63,142 abortions, with more than half of those reported from New York City, in 2020.

Wendy Stark, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, said the nonprofit will not allow the court ruling to interfere with abortion access in New York.

“We will continue to offer our patients safe, legal abortion services, including medication abortion,” Stark said.

Mifepristone is currently available at all Planned Parenthood of Greater New York health centers, including locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island, according to Ale Pedraza Buenahora, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Greater New York.

Walgreens, which owns Duane Reade, released a statement on April 6 reinstating the company’s position on medication abortion: “Walgreens plans to dispense mifepristone in any jurisdiction where it is legally permissible to do so. Once we are certified by the FDA, we will dispense this medication consistent with federal and state laws.”

If the law maintains a ban on mifepristone, New York City will shift to a misoprostol-only treatment available in all five boroughs.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks during a Planned Parenthood virtual press conference from the State Capitol in Albany on Tuesday, April 11, 2023.Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul.