Editorial: Abortion pill extremists are disingenuous absolutists

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When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade last year, freeing states to limit or ban abortion, we knew abortion pills would become a target.

What’s the point of a law, after all, that can be circumvented by using a few pills shipped to private homes anywhere in the country after a simple telehealth or online appointment?

Sure enough, anti-abortion activists and partisan judges are proceeding on multiple fronts to make it harder to safely end pregnancies via medication, currently, and rightly, America’s most popular method.

This unsettled time in the law poses big risks for the rights of individuals and businesses. In their zeal to end abortion, its opponents could undermine the federal government’s ability to regulate commerce, ensure food and drugs are safe and maintain privacy on the internet.

One of the most egregious examples is a lawsuit proceeding in Amarillo, Texas, where an anti-abortion group has teamed up with a like-minded federal judge to attack government oversight essential to the smooth workings of a “United” States. It’s no accident that the lawsuit was filed in Amarillo, where, by rule, nearly all federal cases get assigned to U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk.

Before his appointment to the bench by then-President Donald Trump, Kacsmaryk championed legal assaults on LGBTQ rights, women’s rights and contraception. The Supreme Court stopped an early ruling he made against immigrants seeking asylum, which he followed up with another, and he also has ruled in support of discrimination against transgender Americans.

Plaintiffs routinely file lawsuits in venues likely to favor their interests. With the country increasingly divided, that legal gamesmanship has become more pernicious, as plaintiffs sometimes can pick not just a location but a specific judge. It damages Americans’ sense of justice when a “Trump judge” can always be counted on to rule one way on a culture war issue, and a judge appointed by Democrats another. That’s especially true when long-established practices affecting the entire country are being swept aside.

In this case, an anti-abortion group is asking Kacsmaryk to overturn the Food and Drug Administration’s approval in 2000 of mifepristone for medication-induced abortion, claiming the FDA improperly fast-tracked its review more than two decades ago. On Feb. 13, 22 Republican state attorneys general filed a brief urging Kacsmaryk to find against the FDA, which would likely result in a national ban on the drug, at least until higher courts could adjudicate further.

Contrary to the wilder claims of pro-abortion rights activists, a ruling against the FDA would not end abortion nationwide, or even necessarily stop abortion by medication. The current gold-standard treatment involves two drugs, and where mifepristone is unavailable or too costly, abortions are conducted with just one drug, misoprostol, which is unlikely to be similarly banned because it’s used to treat ulcers and other conditions unrelated to abortion.

The most cynical aspect of the lawsuit is its false claim that mifepristone is unsafe, and women need to be protected from it. The anti-abortion activists behind this litigation couldn’t care less about the health and welfare of women who want the pill for abortions. Their goal is to set up as many roadblocks as possible, no matter the suffering their tactics might cause to those most directly involved.

Authorities such as Chicago’s American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have declared mifepristone safe. Millions of women have taken the drug around the world, experiencing fewer problems than with more invasive surgical abortions. Further, eliminating the two-drug regimen puts those who take just the one remaining drug at a higher risk of painful cramps and other unpleasant side effects, though the outcome is the same: A surgery-free, safe and effective abortion.

This page has long supported a woman’s right to choose, grounded in our belief in her autonomy over her body and our commitment to individual freedoms. We accept that with Roe gone, each state can take its own path on this divisive issue, with some imposing bans that cruelly endanger the health of pregnant women. Extreme efforts to enforce these bans should worry everyone, no matter their views on abortion.

Does anybody seriously believe the country would be better off if food and drugs were regulated by Texas or other individual states, instead of the FDA? What about state laws targeting people who go online to research abortions, or any other topic that far-right lawmakers and judges might find objectionable? Should remote medical appointments and mail-order pharmaceuticals be subject to onerous restrictions aimed at preventing one controversial procedure? Should the pharmacies at Walgreens and CVS be turned into battlegrounds, and companies such as Danco Laboratories, which makes the branded version of mifepristone, be prevented from selling safe products they’ve invested in for years?

Anti-abortion activists have made their intentions clear: Stop abortion at all costs, even if that means suspending medical ethics and disrupting the smooth functioning of American society.

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