“Unconscionable”: Planned Parenthood’s Alexis McGill Johnson Slams Texas Ruling on Abortion Pill
Written by GRB on 16/04/2023
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Today we spend the hour looking at perhaps the most significant legal rulings on abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. On Friday, a Trump-appointed anti-abortion federal judge in Texas revoked the Food and Drug Administration approval of the abortion pill mifepristone, which is part of the most common abortion method in the United States. Shortly after the Texas ruling was announced, a federal judge in Washington state ordered the FDA to keep mifepristone on the market and maintain the status quo.
The drug was approved by the FDA 23 years ago. Hundreds of studies have proven the drug to be highly safe and effective.
The judge in Texas, Matthew Kacsmaryk, based his ruling in part on the 1873 Comstock Act, which banned the interstate mailing or distribution of, quote, “obscene materials.”
On Friday night, the Justice Department appealed the Texas ruling. In a statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland said, quote, “Today’s decision overturns the FDA’s expert judgment, rendered over two decades ago, that mifepristone is safe and effective. The Department will continue to defend the FDA’s decision,” unquote.
With the dueling rulings in Texas and Washington state, future access to mifepristone may be decided by the conservative-controlled Supreme Court.
On Sunday, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra was interviewed about the Texas ruling by CNN’s Dana Bash.
DANA BASH: But are you taking it off the table, that you will recommend the FDA ignore a ban?
HHS SECRETARY XAVIER BECERRA: Everything is on the table. The president said that way back when the Dobbs decision came out. Every option is on the table.
AMY GOODMAN: After Becerra’s comment, an HHS spokesperson issued a clarifying statement, tweeting, quote, “As dangerous a precedent it sets for a court to disregard FDA’s expert judgment regarding a drug’s safety and efficacy, it would also set a dangerous precedent for the Administration to disregard a binding decision.”
Well, we begin today’s show with Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Welcome to Democracy Now! First, your reaction to Judge Kacsmaryk’s decision in Texas?
ALEXIS McGILL JOHNSON: Good morning, Amy.
What can I say? The reaction feels a lot like Dobbs, right? Not a shock or a surprise, but you still feel the gut punch. And I think that’s exactly what we felt on Friday evening, on Good Friday evening, for this judge, this singular conservative activist judge, to lay down this decision to block decades of approval of mifespristone, that has clearly been safely used for over 23 years in more than 60 countries, more than 5 million patients, and to dare challenge the FDA not just on mifespristone, but also the implications that are far-reaching for other medications.
AMY GOODMAN: So, if you could explain, Alexis, mifespristone — might surprise people, part of a two-drug cocktail that is used in most of the abortions in the United States — just how widespread this is, and what exactly does it mean? The judge said it would go into effect in seven days. So it’s not in effect yet. But what this also means for Planned Parenthood?
ALEXIS McGILL JOHNSON: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for that opportunity to offer some patient reassurance for the next seven days, that, you know, there are people who are waking up today, tomorrow, who will have appointments that they have already made, because they were planning to make decisions about their own lives and their bodies, and they will be seeking access to mifespristone and medication abortion over the next seven days, and those appointments will still be available.
Look, the process for medication abortion, the standard used is mifespristone as the first medication and misoprostol as the second medication. It is used in the majority of early terminations, so under about 12 weeks or so, 10 to 12 weeks. And it is common. It’s something that people can both do in a self-managed way, in the privacy of their own home.
What we saw often over the last year and a half so, since S.B. 8 and the Dobbs decision, are people having to travel multiple hours out of state, already taking time off from work, time off to get child care and so forth, securing access to mifepristone, and then having to then drive back and, again, being able to manage at their convenience the end of their pregnancies.
And so, it will be significant if in fact this drug comes off the market in the next seven days or, you know, in the next short period, because the majority of people who are seeking access to abortion are seeking it through this method. And obviously, it would have — you know, it would wreak havoc on our healthcare situation.
AMY GOODMAN: And what does it mean for Planned Parenthood clinics around the country? I want to ask about two things. One is mifespristone itself, if you have the drug in places. But also, this isn’t just about mifespristone. If a judge can rule against the FDA on approval, which hasn’t been done before, it could be about insulin. It could be about vaccinations. It could be on almost anything, a judge overruling scientists. And that this means for Planned Parenthood?
ALEXIS McGILL JOHNSON: Well, you’re absolutely right. I think that is the — that is the alarm. You know, I’ve been saying not only is this a crisis of public health precisely for those reasons, because it will impact the patients seeking access to abortion, but it also, like, really threatens our process at the FDA, which is a very independent body that relies on evidence and rigor to test the implications and the health, the public health, for our country. And, you know, medicine relies on that kind of rigor, relies on that, not on the kind of junk science that this judge relied on from the anti-abortion opponents. So it could have implications for cancer drugs, for drugs that rely on stem cell research. There are so many ways in which this decision could — you know, again, as it’s been called unprecedented — really implicate the public health crisis.
It also is a crisis of democracy. You know, it is one in which this judge was guaranteed, because the organization that brought the lawsuit against the FDA brought it in Amarillo, guaranteeing they would get this conservative activist judge, Judge Kacsmaryk, guaranteeing the decision would then be appealed to the 5th Circuit, also conservative, and then to the Supreme Court.
So, the fact that — you know, we don’t know what the implications will be, because we need to see, watch the process play out with the FDA and HHS and the administration. And at the same time, we need to ensure that our patients are getting the care that they need. So, for Planned Parenthood, what that means is each individual affiliate will be making their own decisions for operating reasons. And there are also, as you mentioned earlier, competing orders now with the state of Washington, that is suing to protect access to mifespristone in the states that they are — that they represent.
So, you know, we are sorting it out in real time along with everyone else, but trying to reassure those folks this week that they will be able to get the care, where abortion is available, or to get referred out of state, where abortion is banned, and then to ensure that we both create access, but also looking at other protocols, like the double miso protocol — misoprostol protocol, in order to make sure that we can get patients the care that they are asking for.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Alexis McGill Johnson, I know you have to go, but you mentioned Judge Kacsmaryk, and you’re before him — Planned Parenthood is before him — in another case, a $1.8 billion lawsuit. Can you explain what that’s about, before the same judge in Amarillo?
ALEXIS McGILL JOHNSON: Before the same judge, yes. There’s a Title X case against minors, this mifespristone case and the FDA, and Planned Parenthood. There are a False Claims Act, that is totally meritless, related to our three Texas affiliates billing Medicaid, for which they were entitled to bill because they were able to do that under an injunction. And the judge, again, is — you know, we’re in litigation right now where we will go before this judge in the fall. And, you know, if what we are seeing is any indication, his opposition, his ability to actually provide independent judgment, independent of his own personal convictions, I think, is really in question here.
I’m very deeply concerned about the implications for the organization, and also, really, again, deeply concerned for our democracy. One lone conservative activist judge should not be able to take away access to medical care from — you know, for 50% of the country. And, in fact, this judgment, as we know, won’t just stay in Texas. This will have implications for California, for New York, for Illinois, for places where they have declared themselves to be oasis states for care, because what we know, Amy, is that people will not stop seeking access to abortion. We are just making it harder for people to get the medication and the care that they need, and that is just unconscionable.
AMY GOODMAN: Alexis McGill Johnson, I want to thank you for being with us, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Coming up, we continue to look at the future of the abortion pill mifespristone and the most significant legal rulings on abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. Stay with us.