Texas judge sets hearing in case seeking to ban abortion pill nationwide

Trust Women clinic in Oklahoma is inundated with women from Texas seeking abortion care
Dr. Shelly Tien hands a patient the initial abortion inducing medication at Trust Women clinic in Oklahoma City, U.S., December 6, 2021. Of the 20 abortions performed that day, 17 of the patients came from Texas. Picture taken December 6, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

March 13 (Reuters) - A hearing in a lawsuit by anti-abortion groups seeking to ban the abortion pill mifepristone nationwide will take place on Wednesday, with media groups pressing the judge for greater transparency.

At Wednesday's hearing, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo will consider whether to temporarily halt all sales of the drug, even in states where abortion remains legal, while their lawsuit proceeds.

Legal experts have said the Texas lawsuit could be the most significant national abortion case since the U.S. Supreme Court last year reversed its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which had guaranteed abortion rights nationwide. Mifepristone is part of the regimen in the U.S. for medication abortions, which account for more than half of all abortions in the country.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that Kacsmaryk had told lawyers in the case Friday that he intended to hold the hearing but would delay announcing it until Tuesday to avoid protests and disruptions.

Kacsmaryk's chambers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Following that report, the feminist organization Women's March said it was disturbing that the judge was trying "to hide this case from public view" and announced they would organize a "snap protest" Wednesday.

"Public access to federal court proceedings is a key principle of the American judiciary system," said Women's March Director Rachel O'Leary Carmona in a statement.

A group of media organizations filed an objection, saying the alleged delay by the judge was illegal and undermined "the important values served by public access to judicial proceedings and court records."

The organizations include the non-profit legal group Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Washington Post and Gannett Co, which owns newspapers in Amarillo and elsewhere in the state.

Mifepristone, in combination with misoprostol, is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for medication abortion in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

Anti-abortion groups including the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine sued the FDA last November, claiming the agency used an improper process to approve mifepristone in 2000 and did not adequately consider its safety for minors.

The government, responding to the lawsuit, has said that the drug's approval was well supported by science, and that the challenge, 22 years after the fact, comes much too late. Major medical organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have also weighed in to support the government, saying mifepristone "has been thoroughly studied and is conclusively safe" and that banning it would harm patients by delaying abortions and forcing them to have unnecessary surgical abortions.

Suing in Amarillo, where the Alliance had been incorporated three months earlier, ensured that the case would go before Kacsmaryk, a reliable conservative and former Christian activist. His courthouse has become a favored destination for Republicans seeking to challenge aspects of Democratic President Joe Biden's agenda.

He is also presiding over a pending lawsuit accusing media companies, including Reuters, of violating federal antitrust laws by working with tech companies to censor information about COVID-19. A Reuters spokesperson has denied the allegations.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York and Gabriella Borter in Washington; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Lisa Shumaker

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at brendan.pierson@thomsonreuters.com.