Washington judge temporarily halts discontinuation of abortion drug nationwide

Access to the most commonly used method of abortion in the U.S. plunged into uncertainty Friday following conflicting court rulings over the legality of the abortion medication mifepristone.

Mifepristone has been used for more than two decades. However, anti-abortion activists, who filed a lawsuit in Texas, claimed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not do enough research on the medication before approving it. 

The lawsuit was filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a non-profit legal advocacy group that regularly engages in high-profile lawsuits. Alliance Defending Freedom was also involved in a Mississippi case that led to Roe v. Wade being overturned.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kaczmaryk, a Texas judge appointed by former president Donald Trump, agreed with the lawsuit and ordered a hold on federal approval of mifepristone. Kaczmaryk's ruling would have put the ban in effect in a week.

However, around the same time, a separate federal case filed by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson created a ruling with the opposite effect. In a nutshell, a motion granted by U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice, a Washington judge appointed by former president Barack Obama, stops the FDA from changing the availability of mifepristone.

It's unclear what the immediate effects the direct opposite rulings will have. 

Oregon's Attorney General, who was working alongside AG Ferguson in the Washington case, reacted to the conflicting orders online stating: "My team is carefully reviewing both orders right now, and we will have more to say soon."

Mifepristone is part of a two-drug regimen that has long been the standard for medication abortion in the U.S. clinics, and doctors that prescribe the combination say they plan to switch to using only misoprostol. That single-drug approach has a slightly lower rate of effectiveness in ending pregnancies, but it is widely used in countries where mifepristone is illegal or unavailable.

Courts have long deferred to the FDA on issues of drug safety and effectiveness. But the agency's authority faces new challenges in a post-Roe legal environment in which abortions are banned or unavailable in 14 states, while 16 states have laws specifically targeting abortion medications.

Ahead of the Texas ruling, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee stockpile purchased 30,000 doses of mifepristone, which is a three-year supply. In addition to the state’s 30,000 doses, Inslee said he also asked the University of Washington to buy another 10,000 doses, bringing the total to a four-year supply of the abortion drug.

"Washington state will not allow a judge in Texas to deny the right of Washington women to this safe drug," Inslee said last week. "We will not sit idly by. We have to recognize these threats will continue and our actions will continue to preserve the right of choice in the state of Washington.

The Associated Press contributed to this story