Federal judge considers stay in abortion case affecting Montana, Kansas and Virginia

By: - August 24, 2023 12:01 am

Abortion pills and drinking water. (Peter Dazeley/Getty Images)

A federal judge in Virginia will likely stay – or pause – a case regarding medical providers and mifepristone, a drug commonly used as part of chemical abortions, because of similar challenges in Texas and Washington.

Groups from Virginia, Montana and Kansas had filed the suit in the Charlottesville division of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia and asked Judge Robert S. Ballou to order the Food and Drug Administration to drop requirements of reporting adverse effects of the drug as well as limiting which providers can prescribe it. The plaintiffs, a group of women’s health providers and clinics, had said an April ruling by a federal judge in Texas would have curtailed their ability to prescribe the drug via telehealth.

Abortion providers sue FDA over abortion pill restrictions in Virginia, Montana, Kansas

However, Ballou pointed out that the Texas case, as well as a different one in Washington state, focus on the FDA, mifepristone and what prescription guidelines should be in place. Those issues are winding their way through other federal courts and will likely land at the U.S. Supreme Court. Ballou said for those reasons, and because most of the legal actions surrounding medical providers’ ability to prescribe mifepristone have been temporarily paused because of the ongoing court action, it was in the best interest to wait or pause the Virginia case until the matter was decided, possibly by the nation’s highest court.

Originally, medical providers pointed to the remarkable track record of safety for the drug, noting that its risk of death was much smaller than some over-the-counter medications, including ibuprofen. However, the organizations bristled at more restrictions being implemented by the FDA without corresponding scientific data. They said that the additional measures were burdensome and limited healthcare for women who were considering an abortion.

“Plaintiffs have offered no evidence that FDA intends to take action to change any of mifepristone’s (tracking and prescribing requirements) or to restrict the access of the drug in Virginia, Kansas or Montana,” Ballou said in a memorandum opinion. “Indeed the FDA has been enjoined from changing (them) at this time in 17 states and the District of Columbia by the Washington court. “

Ballou did point out, though, that the issue may again become ready to litigate in court after a decision by the Supreme Court or an appeals court.

“I agree that the outcome of the (Texas) case could have an impact on plaintiffs, but it is neither necessary nor appropriate to issue a preliminary injunction in anticipation or because of a ruling from another court,” Ballou said.

He ordered all parties to set up a conference to make sure the record in the court case is complete before issuing any final order.

This story first appeared in the Daily Montanan, a sister publication of the Virginia Mercury within the States Newsroom network.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming.