Competing abortion pill rulings sow broad alarm, confusion

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Emma Hernandez is defiant even if she fears what may come in the latest stage of the nation’s fight over abortion: a widening prohibition to safe and legal ways to end unwanted pregnancies, including access to abortion pills.

Competing rulings by two federal judges over the availability of the abortion drug mifepristone are sowing alarm and confusion for Hernandez and countless other Americans who insist that availability must be guaranteed. Others celebrated one judge’s ruling that would restrict that access but acknowledge the battle is far from over.

Hernandez’s concerns were heightened Friday when U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee in Amarillo, Texas, overruled decades of scientific approval and put on hold federal approval of mifepristone, one of two drugs used in combination to end pregnancies. The judge immediately stayed his ruling for a week so federal authorities could file a challenge.

At about the same time in Spokane, Washington, U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice, an Obama appointee, directed federal officials not to hinder access to the drug in at least 17 states where Democrats sued to keep the drug’s availability intact. The issue will likely be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court, which last year repealed Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision that had established a constitutional right to abortions.

“As a person who’s had multiple medication abortions, we know that the medication itself is safe and effective,” said Hernandez, a 30-year-old Texas resident who works for We Testify, an organization that provides an outlet for people to share their stories about abortions.

“These restrictions are intentionally creating confusion and limiting our options to a point where we’re being asked to accept whatever abortion option remains available,” she said Saturday.

Abortion opponents like Rose Mimms, the executive director of Arkansas Right to Life, welcomed the Texas decision.

“That’s really going to put a big dent in the abortion industry across the country, (but) I do expect it will be appealed,” Mimms said.

While some states like hers have sharply curtailed access to abortions, she wants stricter controls over abortion-inducing medications that can be delivered through the mail, even in states where abortion is illegal or severely restricted.

In his ruling, Kacsmaryk noted how some groups are undermining a state’s ability to regulate abortion. He specifically mentioned New York-based Mayday Health, a nonprofit that provides information on how to obtain the medication.

Mayday Health’s executive director, Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, urged women to begin stockpiling mifepristone in case it is banned. She said pills can be obtained from international suppliers through the mail.

“You can order them now and keep mifepristone like you would keep Tylenol. It has a shelf life of about two years,” said Lincoln, a Portland, Oregon, obstetrician and gynecologist.

About a million people every month visit the organization’s website. Following the Texas ruling, Lincoln said, the number of visits has become even more brisk.

“We know those numbers will climb when people see that safe healthcare is threatened,” she said.

Renee Bracey Sherman, founder and executive director of We Testify, said she is “frustrated that access to abortion care is hanging on by a thread.”

While mifepristone and misoprostol, another abortion-inducing drug, remain available in the U.S., Sherman calls the court battle and debate over the drugs “a very slippery slope” toward an outright ban on abortion in any form.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said during an interview Saturday on CNN that she would push legislation that would require insurance companies to cover misoprostol, which can be used alone but is more effective when taken with mifepristone.

“We’re also concerned about the next phase,” Hochul said. “We’re trying to figure out all the different ways we can get ahead of this.”

In recent years, abortion foes have won major victories, and they have become more emboldened in their efforts to further erode access to abortions, said Hernandez.

“It’s something that we saw around the bend,” she said. “I do know that we’ve been preparing for these moments and understanding how we can get people to still have access in whatever way is available in their region.”

The growing restrictions could particularly hurt people who don’t have the resources to travel to such places as California and New York to get in-clinic abortions.

Hernandez recalls her first abortion when she was 21. She didn’t want to reveal her pregnancy to anyone; to retain her privacy, she relied on medication to abort her pregnancy. Without access to a car, she would not have had a convenient way to get to a clinic.

“For me it was the best option because it did not require any sort of sedation,” Hernandez said. “And I did not have a support system that could assist me in traveling to and from a clinic for an abortion procedure.”

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Calvan reported from New York and Miller from Oklahoma City.

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