The Denver Post

Judge in abortion pill case sought to delay telling public of hearing

- By Katie Benner and Pam Belluck

The federal judge in a closely watched lawsuit that seeks to overturn federal approval of a widely used abortion pill has scheduled the first hearing in the case for this week, but he planned to delay making the public aware of it, according to people familiar with the case.

Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, of the Northern District in Texas, told lawyers in the case Friday that he was scheduling the hearing for Wednesday morning. However, he asked them not to disclose that informatio­n and said he would not enter it into the public court record until late Tuesday evening.

One person familiar with the case, which is being heard in federal court in Amarillo, Texas, said such steps were “very irregular,” especially for a case of intense public interest.

Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee who has written critically about Roe vs. Wade and previously worked for a Christian conservati­ve legal organizati­on, told lawyers in a conference call Friday that he did not want the March 15 hearing to be “disrupted,” and that he wanted all parties involved to share their points in an orderly fashion, according to people familiar with the discussion.

The judge also said that court staff had faced security issues, including death threats, and that the measure was intended to keep the court proceeding­s safe.

The lawsuit, filed in November against the Food and Drug Administra­tion by a coalition of antiaborti­on groups and doctors, seeks to end more than 20 years of legal use of medication­s for abortion. The plaintiffs, led by the Alliance for Hippocrati­c Medicine, an organizati­on that lists five antiaborti­on groups as its members, have asked the judge to issue a preliminar­y injunction ordering the FDA to withdraw its long-standing approval of mifepristo­ne, the first pill in the two- drug medication abortion regimen.

At the hearing, lawyers representi­ng the plaintiffs, the FDA and a manufactur­er of mifepristo­ne will present arguments for and against an injunction. It is unclear if the judge will decide whether to issue an order that day or sometime later.

Such an order would be unpreceden­ted, legal experts say, and — if higher courts were to allow an injunction to stand — would make it harder for patients to get abortions in states where abortion is legal, not just in those trying to restrict it.

Medication abortion is used in more than half of abortions in the United States. That proportion has been increasing as conservati­ve states impose abortion bans or sweeping restrictio­ns in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the national right to abortion last June.

The Washington Post earlier reported on the Friday call and upcoming hearing.

In asking the lawyers to keep quiet about the hearing, the judge did not issue a gag order, which would bar the participan­ts on the call from sharing the informatio­n. Rather, he asked them to keep the informatio­n secret “as a courtesy.”

The lawsuit claims that the FDA did not adequately review the scientific evidence or follow proper protocols when it approved mifepristo­ne in 2000 and that it has since ignored safety risks of the medication. The lead plaintiff, the Alliance for Hippocrati­c Medicine, was incorporat­ed in August in Amarillo, shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade. Kacsmaryk is the only federal judge covering the Amarillo division in the court’s Northern District.

The FDA and the Department of Justice have strongly disputed the lawsuit’s claims and said the FDA’S rigorous reviews of mifepristo­ne over the years had repeatedly reaffirmed its decision to approve mifepristo­ne, which blocks a hormone that allows a pregnancy to develop.

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