RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Amid the uncertainty about the future of access to abortion medications, a North Carolina doctor says some patients are trying to move up appointments as soon as possible following last week’s ruling by a federal judge in Texas.
The judge’s ruling halts FDA approval of the drug mifepristone and could take effect later this week. A judge in Washington state issued a contradictory decision regarding the matter, and a federal appeals court could weigh in soon.
“I do think that creating chaos, creating confusion, is part of the gameplan with rulings like this. And, so patients are unsure. Is it still legal?” Dr. Beverly Gray, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University, said.
She noted that in 2020, medication abortions accounted for about 60 percent of abortions in North Carolina. She said mifepristone is usually used in conjunction with another drug, misoprostol, which she said is the most effective method.
“Misoprostol only is a good alternative. It’s not the best alternative. The best medication would be to use mifepristone and misoprostol together because they’re efficacious with fewer side effects,” said Gray.
The FDA first approved mifepristone in 2000. State law requires abortion pills be administered in person by a doctor.
“We know that mifepristone is an incredibly safe and effective medication,” she said. “And, mifepristone is safer than Viagra.”
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, said she hopes the Texas judge’s decision stands.
“Women will have to have abortions by other means because the FDA failed to do its job when they evaluated the safety and effectiveness of the abortion pill,” she said. “The FDA approved do-it-yourself abortion drugs for political reasons, and that jeopardizes the health and safety of women and girls.”
Jolynn Dellinger, visiting lecturer at Duke Law School, said if the decision stands it could have implications for other medications.
“This has never happened. This is unprecedented for a judge to basically use his own scientific understanding to displace the reasoning of the FDA,” she said. “And, the FDA, empowered by Congress, exists for a reason. And, we should be letting the FDA do its job and not be letting a judge displace that.”
The legal battle over access to abortion medications is occurring as Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly are discussing among themselves what new restrictions to try to implement.
In late March, three Republicans in the House filed a bill that would ban nearly all abortions, with the only exception being to protect the mother’s life. That bill is not expected to advance.
Instead, Republicans in both chambers are trying to come together on a proposal that could get through the legislature and survive a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper (D).
Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) has called for a ban after the first trimester, with exceptions for rape, incest, and protecting the life of the mother.
But, three months into the legislative session, no clear proposal has emerged.
“I know we continue to have conversations within our caucus about abortion and are trying to come to a consensus, but we’re not there yet,” he said last week.
Democrats have filed bills to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade into state law and to remove some of the existing restrictions on abortion, including the 72-hour waiting period. Those bills are not expected to advance either.
“I think they’ve been thoughtfully considering the right approach for North Carolina, and they’ve been thoughtfully considering how to protect women,” said Fitzgerald. “I think the legislature is approaching this very thoughtfully, I think they’re thinking about women and how to help women.”