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Abortion rights roundup: August 18, 2023

The latest news impacting reproductive rights around the country.

By Rebekah Sager - August 18, 2023
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Planned Parenthood Texas sign
A Planned Parenthood sign is seen in Austin, Texas, Aug. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

This series is a weekly roundup of abortion news, covering various statewide laws and bans, those who stand up to them, and the ongoing push by anti-abortion conservatives to restrict abortion care and erase bodily autonomy.

Mifepristone is safe, but with restrictions.

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a ruling on the challenge to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the abortion medication mifepristone.

Mifepristone is the first-step oral medication used with misoprostol to end a pregnancy.

The panel ruled that mifepristone, which is used in half of all abortions in the nation and has been determined in multiple scientific studies to be safer than Tylenol or Viagra, can remain on the market, but with restrictions.

The 2-1 ruling held that changes made by the FDA in 2016 to ease access to the medication were not permitted because they did not follow proper procedures.

“In loosening mifepristone’s safety restrictions, FDA failed to address several important concerns about whether the drug would be safe for the women who use it,” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote for the majority.

The changes made in 2016 included permitting providers other than doctors to prescribe the drug; allowing the drug to be mailed directly to patients; increasing the number of weeks’ gestation at which a patient can take the drug from seven weeks to 10 weeks and lowering the dosage.

Despite the ruling Wednesday, mifepristone remains available due to an order halting lower court rulings that was issued in April by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a statement emailed to the American Independent Foundation, Mini Timmaraju, the president of the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, said:

The bottom line is that this decision does not change the availability of mifepristone today or in the immediate future. Despite the attempts by right-wing judges and politicians, medication abortion remains available. It is a safe and effective option for abortion care that has been used by millions of people for decades. As this baseless lawsuit makes its way to an extremist Supreme Court, we will continue to fight with our allies to protect and expand access to medication abortion for all.

In a statement sent to the American Independent Foundation, Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, chair of the Democratic Governors Association, said:

Yesterday’s ruling is just the latest reminder that Democratic governors remain the last and best line of defense for reproductive freedom. While MAGA Republicans and the right-wing judges they put in place keep working to undermine reproductive rights — even ripping away access to a medication that has been safely prescribed for over 20 years — Democratic governors across the country remain committed to protecting and strengthening women’s most fundamental rights and to making sure every American can get the health care they need.

A Mississippi teen rape survivor is forced to give birth.

Time magazine reported on Aug. 14 that a 13-year-old girl, referred to by the outlet as “Ashley,” was raped by a stranger in 2022 outside of her home in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and became pregnant.

Ashley was 10 or 11 weeks pregnant when her mother learned of the pregnancy. Because the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade a few months earlier, triggering a law banning abortion care in Mississippi, Ashley was left without options for a safe and legal abortion.

Although the state allows abortions in cases of rape or incest, patients find that those are difficult to prove, and the process is murky, even with a police report — which Ashley’s mother filed with the Clarksdale Police Department.

According to the New York Times, only two pregnant people in Mississippi have been able to obtain abortions using the rape exception since the law went into effect in 2022.

There are no abortion providers in Mississippi.

Without the funds to travel to Illinois, the nearest state with legal abortion care, Ashley was forced to give birth just a few months before starting seventh grade.

According to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 2.9 million American women experience a rape-related pregnancy during their lifetime.

Texas is determined to bankrupt Planned Parenthood.

According to reporting by Vox, a lawsuit filed against Planned Parenthood by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on behalf of an anonymous anti-abortion activist will be heard by Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Kacsmaryk, who was appointed to the bench by former President Donald Trump, is the judge who reversed the FDA’s approval over 20 years ago of the abortion medication mifepristone in a ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court stayed in April pending further lower court proceedings.

The suit seeks to retrieve millions of dollars in Medicaid payments made to Texas Planned Parenthood clinics going back to 2017.

The state of Texas has had it out for Planned Parenthood going back to 2015, when Gov. Greg Abbott pledged to cut $3.1 million in Medicaid funding to the organization, money used to pay for cancer screenings and other health care services for low-income residents.

Abortion care is not covered by federal funding anywhere in the United States.

Planned Parenthood was removed from the Texas Medicaid program in 2021. The suit, which was filed under the federal False Claims Act, is attempting to retrieve at least $17 million from Planned Parenthood but could end up resulting in a payout of over $1 billion due to added fines, the Associated Press reports.

Alexis McGill Johnson, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the case was “an active effort to shut down Planned Parenthood health centers.”

Indiana doctor who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape survivor is denied a prestigious award.

The Independent reports that Indiana-based Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an obstetrician and gynecologist who faced a tsunami of backlash from Republicans after providing abortion care to a child who traveled out of state from Ohio, was denied an Indiana Torchbearer Award, an honor that is presented by the Indiana Commission of Women annually to salute six “women who have become true beacons of light and their stories of courage, perseverance, and compassion” in their communities.

Bernard was one of eight women nominated this year, but the committee that confirms the choices, the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, did not approve her nomination.

The group told the Indianapolis Star that Bernard was denied the award because she had been reprimanded and fined $3,000 by the state’s medical licensing board in May over allegations that she had breached patient privacy laws by speaking with a reporter about the child’s case.

“It feels like the governor has said women cannot be trusted to choose their own heroes. … I think it’s just another kick in the gut to women in Indiana,” said Deb Chubb, a Torchbearer judge and director of the Indiana Women’s Action Movement.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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