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Texas judge to consider halting sale of abortion pill across US

A judge in the US state of Texas hears arguments in a lawsuit brought by anti-abortion groups seeking to ban a widely used abortion pill in the United States in the country’s latest legal battle over reproductive health care.

U.S. federal judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a conservative appointee of former President Donald Trump, will consider whether mifepristone, an abortion pill approved by the Food and Drug Administration more than 20 years ago, should be banned.

The Alliance for Defending Freedom and other groups asked Kacsmaryk on Wednesday for an immediate order to withdraw or suspend approval of the drug.

Such a move would pose an unprecedented challenge to the FDA, which in 2000 approved mifepristone in combination with a second pill as a safe and effective method for abortions.

It would further shaping the reproductive rights landscape in the US following a decision by the nation’s highest court in June to overturn the landmark 1973 abortion rights ruling, Roe v Wade.

Abortion pills are the most common form of abortion in the U.S., accounting for more than half of all procedures since 2020, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research organization.

“If Judge Kacsmaryck decides to withdraw the FDA approval of mifepristone, it will not be based on science or evidence,” the abortion rights group NARAL wrote on Twitter ahead of Wednesday’s hearing. “It will be based on an anti-choice ideology.”

In June, the anti-abortion movement celebrated when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 by a conservative majority to strike down Roe v Wade.

In the months since, numerous Republican-ruled states have imposed strict restrictions or outright bans on abortion, and anti-abortion campaigners have shifted their focus to trying to ban abortion pills as well.

Mifepristone is the first of two pills used to induce an abortion. The pill stops a pregnancy and a second pill taken up to 48 hours later, misoprostol, causes cramping, bleeding and emptying of the uterus.

The process can be completed safely at home and is approved for up to 10 weeks of pregnancy.

The Texas lawsuit alleges that the FDA’s 2000 approval of mifepristone was flawed for several reasons, including an inadequate assessment of the pill’s safety risks.

The suit also challenges several subsequent FDA decisions that relaxed restrictions on the pill, including eliminating a requirement for women to pick it up in person.

But abortion rights advocates have dismissed the lawsuit as another assault on reproductive justice in the US.

A small group of protesters demonstrated outside the courthouse in Amarillo, Texas, where the case is being heard on Wednesday. They carried placards with slogans like “Not your womb, not your decision” and “Defend medication abortion”.

Lindsay London, a 41-year-old nurse, said the case was “100 percent ideologically based”.

“If they were concerned about people’s health, they would take many other actions,” London told AFP news agency. “It’s ideological, not based on science.”

Major medical organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have sided with the FDA in saying that mifepristone “has been thoroughly studied and is conclusively safe.”

Legal experts also say there is little precedent for a lone judge to overrule the FDA’s scientific review, which declared in a January filing that stopping sales of mifepristone would “drastically” harm the public interest and lead women to encourage unnecessary surgical abortions.

It’s not clear when Kacsmaryk will make his decision, but if he rules in favor of the plaintiffs, the U.S. government is widely expected to appeal.

Speaking out against the FDA also leaves it unclear how quickly access to mifepristone could be restricted or how the process would work. The FDA has its own procedures for withdrawing drug approvals, which involve public hearings and scientific deliberations and can take months or years.