Washington’s abortion pill stockpile untapped as court fights continue

By: - July 17, 2023 2:41 pm

Packages of Mifepristone tablets. (Photo illustration by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Washington’s three-year-supply of mifepristone isn’t going anywhere — at least until dueling court cases on access to the widely-used abortion pill are decided. 

Gov. Jay Inslee directed the state Department of Corrections, which has a pharmacy license, to purchase the medication in March, and the full shipment arrived March 31. The unprecedented action came in anticipation of a ruling from a Texas judge, who in April suspended the Food and Drug Administration’s 23-year-old approval of mifepristone. 

The state planned to distribute mifepristone to any medical providers in need of the medication and unable to access it due to the ruling. 

That was until a federal judge in Washington state prevented U.S. authorities from restricting access to mifepristone in Washington and 16 other Democratic-led states. That ruling came in response to a lawsuit those states filed, claiming that FDA’s regulations on the drug are excessively burdensome.

The judge issued the ruling in the Washington case almost immediately after the Texas judge’s decision. 

Amid the legal wrangling, the U.S. Supreme Court in April stepped in and preserved access to the medication while appeals unfold. 

State officials said the supply of mifepristone, which is used in a two-drug regimen for medication abortions, will not be distributed unless the courts limit access. 

It may take months for courts to reach a final decision on mifepristone access. 

The Washington state case is complicated by a group of Republican states that sought to intervene. A move the district court judge denied. Those states appealed that ruling to the  9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Texas judge’s decision had another day in federal court in May, when judges from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments about access to the drug. The court’s judges have yet to hand down a decision.

Mifepristone has a five-year shelf life, but officials said there’s no plan yet for what happens should the medication expire before the state’s supply is needed. However, if the mifepristone goes unused and begins to approach its expiration date, a distribution plan would likely be put in place, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office, Mike Faulk, said. 

This story has been updated to include additional information from the Governor’s Office. 

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Grace Deng
Grace Deng

Grace Deng joined the Washington State Standard shortly after graduating from Northwestern University in June 2023. Grace, who currently lives in Tacoma, is a local Washingtonian who was born and raised in Snohomish County. She has previous experience covering statehouse politics and policy for the Minnesota Reformer and the USA TODAY Ohio Network, which includes the Columbus Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Akron-Beacon Journal.