VP Kamala Harris calls challenges to abortion pills an attack on public health system

Vice President Kamala Harris speaking at a round table on reproductive rights Feb. 24, 2023. Photo: videograb from Twitter @VP

WASHINGTON – Vice President Harris called efforts to restrict access to medication abortion pills an attack by “extremists” on fundamental rights to health care, saying attempts to revoke approval for the drug threaten the public health system.

Harris, at a meeting with reproductive rights advocates in Washington on Friday, indicated that the Biden administration would defend women’s right to abortion medication. Her remarks come as the country awaits a decision in a Texas federal court case challenging Americans’ access to the federally approved abortion drug mifepristone.

Attempts to discredit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the drug amount to partisan attacks on science and medicine, the vice president said.

“This is not just an attack on women’s fundamental freedoms. It is an attack on the very foundation of our public health system,” Harris said.

Access to abortion pills is seen as one of the next major battlegrounds in the national debate over reproductive rights. Eight months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, striking down protections for the right to abortion, medication has become a leading way for people to access abortion, including those in states that have restricted it.

The arguments center on mifepristone, which is part of a two-drug regimen for medication abortion. It was approved by the FDA in 2000, and the agency has said it is safe and effective.

The FDA approved retail pharmacies to distribute abortion medication pills in January. The Justice Department then moved to protect access, issuing an opinion that the U.S. Postal Service can deliver the pills in states where abortion is banned or severely restricted.

Meanwhile, antiabortion groups have turned their focus to the pills. Conservative groups brought the case in Texas, seeking to reverse federal approval of the drug. They claim the drug is unsafe and allege that the FDA failed to study it carefully enough.

Legal experts have widely said the arguments lack merit, The Washington Post has reported, but because conservative judges will likely decide the case, abortion rights advocates have begun preparing for its potential impact. The decision could ultimately land before the Supreme Court.

In the suit, the groups call abortion pills dangerous, argue that the FDA “failed America’s women and girls” and accuse the agency of “eviscerat[ing] crucial safeguards” for people who use the drugs.

The attorneys general of 22 Republican-leaning states this month filed a brief arguing that the FDA “undermined the public interest.”

Led by Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch (R), they argued that the Biden administration’s efforts to ensure ease of access to abortion pills have “attacked and worked to undermine” decisions by states.

Harris said the Biden administration would push to protect women’s reproductive rights, including by examining how “to highlight this issue” of abortion medication access and fight for the rights of Americans to “have access to the medication that they need.”

“Most Americans could look in their medicine cabinet, where they will find medication prescribed by a doctor that they use on a daily basis and have available to them because the FDA engaged in a process of determining the efficacy and safety of that medication. Mifepristone is no exception to that process,” she said.

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