GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – While the maelstrom continues about the controversial ruling late Friday by a U.S. District judge that effectively banned a primary abortion pill, two key players will gather health care providers in Greensboro on Tuesday to discuss that very issue.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro) is convening a “Reproductive Rights Roundtable” at UNC-Greensboro Union Square that will include U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and maybe a dozen others from the Piedmont Triad.

FILE - Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies during the Senate Finance Committee hearing on March 22, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Criticizing a judge's order barring abortion pills, Becerra on Sunday, April 9, blasted the decision as “not America" and pledged a vigorous legal fight by the Biden administration to maintain access for women seeking safe ways to end unwanted pregnancies. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, File)
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, shown testifying before a Senate committee last month, will talk about reproductive rights and the Inflation Reduction Act in Greensboro on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, File)

In case you missed the announcements late Friday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas, ordered a hold on the USDA’s decades-old approval of mifepristone, the primary drug used for medical abortions. Later another district court judge, Thomas O. Rice in Washington, issued a ruling effectively reversing Kacsmaryk’s, at least in the 17 states where Democrats have sued to protect availability.

An announcement of Manning’s 90-minute event, which begins at 11 a.m., following a similar session about the “Inflation Reduction Act,” says she and Becerra will “host abortion care providers and reproductive health care professionals to discuss the current reproductive health care landscape” and specifically issues surrounding abortion rights in North Carolina.

Rep. Kathy Manning
Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro)

A spokesperson for Manning said the planning for this roundtable started during the middle of last week “in advance of the judge’s ruling. We do expect the ruling to be a topic of discussion,” Deputy Chief of Staff Hailey Barringer told WGHP in an email.

She said about “10-12 roundtable participants” are expected and that several members of the North Carolina General Assembly have been invited. Manning’s 6th Congressional District includes all of Guilford and Rockingham counties and parts of Forsyth and Caswell counties.

Prime abortion tool

Mifepristone, the so-called morning-after pill, which the USDA approved in 2000, has become the most significant tool for abortions in the U.S. Mifepristone usually is taken in a two-drug regimen within the first 11 weeks of pregnancy to cause a miscarriage. It is said to be about 95% effective and as safe as Tylenol.

In 2020, about 54% of all abortions were through pills, research by the Guttmacher Institute found. That was 6% more than in 2019, and that number would project to be significantly higher in the post-pandemic marketplace.

Guttmacher calculates that there were more than 930,000 legal abortions in 2020, down from a peak of 1.6 million in 1990. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counts those figures differently and posts lower numbers.

But the availability of mifepristone has come under focus since the U.S. Supreme Court ordered in its Boggs ruling last June that abortion rights weren’t federally guaranteed and were the responsibility of individual states.

Thirteen states have passed laws that ban almost all abortions. Eight more recently have passed bans that have been blocked at least temporarily by the courts. Access to abortion pills is part of those bans in some states.

Last year Walmart came under criticism by Manning and others for issuing a policy that instructed its pharmacists not to fill prescriptions for abortion drugs unless the assigning physician was present. The company later rescinded that policy.

In January, Dr. Amy Bryant, who practices under UNC Health in Hillsborough and Chapel Hill, filed suit against the state in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina,  because North Carolina is one of several that limits access to mifepristone.

Her suit goes to the point of Kacsmaryk’s ruling on Friday: “North Carolina cannot stand in the shoes of [the] FDA to impose restrictions on medication access that FDA determined are not appropriate and that upset the careful balance FDA was directed by Congress to strike,” the suit says. 

House Bill 533

North Carolina, with its 20-week limit on abortions, is one of five states that have bans of 15 to 20 weeks. But late last month House Bill 533 was filed in the General Assembly, seeking to replace that limit with a total ban on abortions.

The bill has not been assigned to a committee, but Republicans, who now have a supermajority in the General Assembly, had said they favored narrowing that window for abortions.

Manning immediately decried HB 533, saying it is “another in a series of bills introduced by radical Republican politicians in the wake of the Dobbs decision. Their prime intention is to control women’s bodies, strip them of their freedoms, and deny them critical medical care.”

Manning has worked in Congress to help protect women’s rights, last year sponsoring legislation that passed the House and protects access to reproductive health care. The Senate has not taken up that bill.

Two weeks ago, she joined Democrats to reintroduce the “Women’s Health Protection Act,” which would codify abortion rights on the federal level. With GOP control of the House, though, its future is limited.

Polls, such as a WGHP/The Hill/Emerson College Poll last summer, typically show that voters (39% in that poll) think the North Carolina General Assembly should make it easier to access abortion. Just less than 1 in 3 (29%) said lawmakers shouldn’t do anything to change existing law. A Meredith College Poll earlier this year showed that most wanted to keep the law as it is.