The US Justice Department urged an appeals court on Monday to freeze a ruling by a federal judge in Texas that would ban a widely used abortion pill.
“The district court’s extraordinary and unprecedented order should be stayed pending appeal,” the department said in a court filing.
Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, an appointee of former Republican president Donald Trump, on Friday overturned the Food and Drug Administration’s two-decade-old approval of mifepristone, which is used for more than half the abortions carried out annually in the United States.
“If allowed to take effect, the court’s order would thwart FDA’s scientific judgment and severely harm women,” the Justice Department filing said.
“This harm would be felt throughout the country, given that mifepristone has lawful uses in every state,” it said.
The Justice Department asked the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to stay the district judge’s order pending a full appeal in the case.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat, pledged last week to fight the ruling banning mifepristone, calling it “an unprecedented step in taking away basic freedoms from women and putting their health at risk.”
“It is the next big step toward the national ban on abortion that Republican elected officials have vowed to make law in America,” Biden said.
Shortly after the judge in Texas issued his decision, a judge in Washington state ruled in a separate case that access to mifepristone must be preserved.
District Judge Thomas Rice, a Barack Obama appointee, ruled that mifepristone is “safe and legal” and that the FDA must preserve access to it in more than a dozen states.
– Likely to reach Supreme Court –
The dueling legal opinions, along with the appeals, means the issue is almost certain to end up before the US Supreme Court.
The conservative-dominated panel last year overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that had enshrined a woman’s right to abortion for half a century.
Judge Kacsmaryk’s block came after a coalition of anti-abortion groups sued to freeze the national distribution of mifepristone.
Kacsmaryk, in his ruling, adopted language used by abortion opponents, referring to abortion providers as “abortionists” and saying the drug was used to “kill the unborn human.”
Kacsmaryk said the two-drug regimen had resulted in “thousands of adverse events suffered by women and girls,” including intense bleeding and psychological trauma.
But the FDA, researchers and the drugmaker say decades of experience have proven the medication to be safe and effective when used as indicated.
While he stayed the FDA’s 23-year-old approval, Kacsmaryk halted its enforcement for seven days to allow time for appeals.
Mifepristone is one component of a two-drug regimen that can be used in the United States through the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
It has a long safety record, and the FDA estimates 5.6 million Americans have used it to terminate pregnancies since it was approved.
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