Michigan joins nationwide legal battle to protect access to medication abortion

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel speaks at a rally for reproductive freedom and voting rights in Ann Arbor on Oct. 3, 2022. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

By Kyle Kaminski

October 18, 2023

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has joined a coalition of 24 attorneys general in urging the US Supreme Court to protect access to medication-based abortion care.

MICHIGAN—Attorney General Dana Nessel and attorneys general from 23 other states this week joined a multi-state legal battle at the US Supreme Court that aims to ensure women maintain access to the nation’s most commonly prescribed form of medication abortion. 

Here’s the deal:

Last year, months after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to abortion care, several anti-abortion groups filed a federal lawsuit that sought to limit access to mifepristone, one of two drugs used in medication abortions. 

Mifepristone is approved through 10 weeks of pregnancy and, along with the second drug, misoprostol, is used in more than half of abortions nationwide.

In August, the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued a key ruling in the case that would effectively reinstate some old restrictions on mifepristone, limiting access to the drug by prohibiting it from being sent through the mail or being prescribed via telemedicine. 

For now, access to the drug remains unchanged and it’s still available in states (like Michigan) where abortion is legal while the US Supreme Court considers whether to accept an appeal.

And an amicus brief filed by the attorneys general on Monday aims to keep it that way—urging the nation’s top court to take up the appeal and reverse the ruling from the Court of Appeals.

What does Nessel say? 

After Roe v. Wade was overturned, Nessel vowed to ensure that Michigan remains a “safe haven” for women across the country to access reproductive healthcare—including by taking legal action in multiple cases to protect reproductive rights both in Michigan and other states.

Mifepristone is the only FDA-approved abortion medication. Nessel and the coalition contend that any decision to curtail access to the drug would ignore decades of evidence and clinical trials that show the drug is safe and effective, and have a disproportionate impact on low-income and underserved communities that face challenges in accessing health care.

Nessel also said the lower court’s ruling threatens to disrupt access to healthcare, causing more Michiganders in need of abortion or pregnancy loss management to face undue barriers to care.

“It could endanger scores of women who rely on the availability of mifepristone as a safe alternative to invasive procedures,” Nessel said in a statement. “Research has proven that mifepristone is a safe and reliable reproductive health care option for those who need it.”

Nessel said the proposed restrictions—if left to stand—would lead many individuals to undergo procedural abortion, push abortion procedures to later in pregnancy, drive up risks, costs, and delays, as well as deprive many individuals of access to reproductive healthcare altogether. 

The coalition argued that the limiting access to the drug would also create widespread confusion among providers, distributors, and pharmacies—ultimately destabilizing the regulatory process for drug approvals, stifling innovation, and slowing the development of thousands of other drugs. 

What happens next?

The US Supreme Court is likely to act in the coming months. It could deny review, leaving in place the appeals court’s ruling, or it could agree to hear the appeal, returning to contested terrain that at least some of the justices might prefer to avoid, reports the New York Times.

If mifepristone is pulled from the market, doctors will be forced to prescribe just misoprostol, the second drug in the two-drug regimen, which is less effective when prescribed alone.

Joining Nessel in submitting the amicus brief this week were the attorneys general of Arizona; California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; the District of Columbia; Hawaii; Illinois; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Minnesota; Nevada; New Jersey; New Mexico; New York; North Carolina; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; Vermont; Washington; and Wisconsin. 

A group of more than 600 Democratic legislators from 49 states—including 13 Democratic state lawmakers from Michigan—also reportedly signed another amicus brief to the US Supreme Court urging the justices to overturn the appellate court decision limiting access to mifepristone.

Signatories from Michigan include: state Reps. Noah Arbit; Erin Byrnes; Jenn Hill; Rachel Hood; Kara Hope; Laurie Pohustky; Carrie Rheingans; Penelope Tsernoglou; as well as state Sens. Mary Cavanagh; Rosemary Bayer; Stephanie Chang; Erika Geiss; and Sean McCann. 

Meanwhile, a group of independent pharmacies in states across the country have begun dispensing mifepristone—an action made possible thanks to new rules implemented by President Joe Biden’s administration earlier this year. The news, which was first reported by Politico, comes after Biden in January issued new rules allowing retail pharmacies to dispense mifepristone. Unsurprisingly, Biden’s efforts have faced attacks from Republican state officials.

Currently, only 19 pharmacies have publicly confirmed they are dispensing the drug, though others could be providing the medication more quietly, amid fears of retribution from anti-abortion groups, many of whom pledged earlier this year to picket, boycott, and organize pressure campaigns targeting pharmacies that chose to dispense the drug.

READ MORE: Pharmacies expand access to abortion pills under new Biden policy

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Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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