SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In the days following two conflicting rulings on mifepristone– a drug used in abortion and miscarriage care– access to medication abortion is safe. For now.
“To be clear, while all this uncertainty is happening right now, abortion is legal in Minnesota people can access abortion care in Minnesota,” Braverman said Monday.
Jess Braverman, legal director at Gender Justice in Minnesota, said that Friday’s rulings out of Washington and Texas are unprecedented.
Mifepristone was given approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 23 years ago and in the first 18 years of its approval, 24 deaths were reported out of 3.7 million people who took the medication. Eight of the deaths were caused by sepsis, two died of ectopic pregnancies and the remaining 14 deaths were caused by homicide, suicide, drug intoxication and overdoses, delayed toxic shock syndrome and one death that could not be determined.
“This is really an unprecedented lawsuit out of Texas and an unprecedented ruling, seeking to have an agency, the FDA, undo its approval of a medication from 23 years ago,” Braverman said.
Following the Texas ruling, a judge in Washington issued a conflicting ruling directing the FDA not to make any changes to the approval and availability of mifepristone. The Texas ruling gave the agency until Friday, April 14 before his ruling went into effect, but the Washington ruling complicates things.
“What’s super unusual here is the FDA is basically a body of experts who knows about medication, who knows about how to test for the safety and efficacy of medication and what you have here is a judge… not even so much challenging rules and regulations, it’s literally telling the FDA’s experts, ‘I want you to undo what you did 23 years ago,'” Braverman said.
How this could change abortions and miscarriages in South Dakota
In South Dakota, medication abortions are illegal and surgical abortions are only permitted to save the life of the mother, leaving people to turn to neighboring Minnesota to access abortion care. Samantha Chapman, advocacy manager for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota (ACLU), said that for people in South Dakota, this ruling could create a “dangerous situation.”
“This means that now they’ll have to seek a different kind of medication abortion which may not be their preference, or they may not be able to access it at all or they may have to drive to physically have a surgical abortion performed in nearby state where it is legal,” Chapman explained.
South Dakota physicians and patients were already navigating a confusing abortion landscape before this ruling, Chapman continued.
“Our doctors have been asking for clarification from our state legislature on South Dakota’s abortion trigger law that’s been in effect since last July,” Chapman said. “We saw our state legislature kind of attempts to bring some of these clarifications forward and ultimately were squashed. And so here we are. We have physicians, we have patients, nobody has any answers with regard to our state law, and it puts providers medical providers in a very precarious situation with their requirement to take care of their patients and then also follow state laws completely at odds.”
Now, with the potential banning of mifepristone, those going through miscarriages could also see their options limited.
“If the FDA were kind of forced to take this position by a court, it would impact both, you know, abortion care, miscarriage care… there’s just a lot of overlap,” Braverman explained. “That care is, you know, often done by the same people in the same way. And so yes, it will, it will impact people having miscarriage.”
Into unprecedented times
The Texas ruling was set to go into effect on April 14 but with the conflicting ruling from Washington, the future is unclear.
“We still have yet to see how the FDA is going to respond to this ruling,” Braverman said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of uncertainty, at least until the end of the week, and possibly likely even beyond that.”
Braverman added that it’s possible that this case is kicked up to the Supreme Court of the United States as this is a “real emergency” and the FDA will need guidance on what to do next. For now, medication abortion is still legal in Minnesota and available for people travelling from states with abortion bans, like South Dakota.
Chapman believes that this ruling could have an impact not only on where people travel for care, but on South Dakota’s workforce as well.
“I think we’re also going to see physicians choose not to practice medicine here, especially new physicians who are just completing their residency or looking for residency placement and they may not want to choose to practice medicine in South Dakota where it’s legally fraught,” Chapman said.
For now, both Braverman and Chapman were clear: access to mifepristone is still legal.
“If you have an appointment to access medication abortion with mifepristone, please go to your appointment,” Chapman said. “You can still access medication abortion today through Friday using mifepristone. After that, the landscape may look different but there will always be options available we will continue to fight for options to be available to people seeking abortion care, especially self-managed care.”