On Friday, the Supreme Court temporarily preserved access to the drug while a lawsuit against its use continues. But officials in liberal states had already promised to fight for access to medication abortion. The pills, which are used in more than half of the nation’s abortions, have become a vital resource for those seeking the procedure since the court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.
Three of the stockpiling states — Washington, Oregon and Massachusetts — have together purchased more than 67,000 doses of mifepristone, which is the first of a two-drug medication regimen that can currently be obtained through the mail and taken at home. Maryland also said it would purchase “a substantial amount” of the pills.
Two other states, California and New York, have already acquired more than 400,000 doses of misoprostol, the second drug in the regimen, which can be used alone but is not as effective as the two-step approach. Unlike mifepristone, misoprostol is not currently in legal peril.
The scattered effort, which also includes university systems and providers across the country, is the latest turn in the national standoff over abortion access. The political right, fresh off a monumental victory in June’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that invalidated Roe, has undertaken an audacious attempt to push more challenges to abortion through sympathetic federal judges, setting up more showdowns in the courts.
The high stakes race to safeguard abortion medication accelerated this month, when Texas-based federal Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who is known for his antiabortion views, suspended the Food and Drug Administration’s 23-year-old approval of mifepristone in an unprecedented ruling. Within hours, the Biden administration appealed the decision and eventually asked the Supreme Court to restore full access to the pill while lower courts consider the case. The court did that on Friday night.
After the Supreme Court’s ruling, states can hold stockpiles of the drug in reserve as the case winds its way through the courts, experts say, and providers can dispense pills as they had before. Still, fears remain that the continuing legal wrangling could impact availability in states that have strengthened abortion protections.
“There’s nothing, in theory, stopping women from getting a prescription and getting it filled,” said Ameet Sarpatwari, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
In the weeks since the Texas ruling, some left-leaning states have said they also intend to roll out new policies that will protect pharmacists who provide mifepristone and ensure privacy for patients who receive abortion treatment, even if they are traveling from out of state. In California, where voters last year enshrined the right to abortion in the state constitution, officials announced such steps this week.
“Republicans are waging a war on women in this country,” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) said Tuesday. “It is important for women across our state to know that we will continue to safeguard their reproductive freedoms, and to protect California pharmacists who dispense medication abortion, without fear of persecution or prosecution.”
But, in a reflection of the complicated legal turf states are navigating, Newsom’s announcement was short on specifics. Legislation is still in the works, officials said, and they are waiting to see what additional action the courts would take.
Leaders in Washington state and Oregon, who with California have sought to maintain an abortion rights firewall on the West Coast, each recently announced they would purchase three-year supplies of mifepristone.
In Washington, where another federal judge issued a ruling that contradicted the Texas opinion, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) directed the state’s corrections department — which has a pharmacy license — to purchase 30,000 mifepristone pills. New legislation would enable the department to dispense and sell it to health-care providers.
On Thursday, Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek (D) announced the state had secured 22,500 doses of mifepristone and said the pills would be available to anyone “forced to come to our state for care.” Many women drive to Oregon from neighboring Idaho, which largely bans abortion, and thanks to the Supreme Court ruling, doctors can continue prescribing them pills for now.
“In the state of Oregon, if they step into the state, we provide them care, too,” said Alison Edelman, a professor of gynecology at the Oregon Health and Science University’s Center for Women’s Health.
Across the country, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey (D) — the first woman elected to the office — turned to the state’s largest public university for help as the Texas ruling loomed. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst agreed to purchase 15,000 doses of mifepristone, about a year’s supply for the state. On Friday, a university spokesman said the pills had arrived and were in storage.
“Here in Massachusetts, we are not going to let one extremist judge in Texas turn back the clock on this proven medication and restrict access to care in our state,” Healey said in an April 10 announcement, two days after Kacsmaryk’s decision was made public.
Healey also issued an executive order confirming that Massachusetts providers are shielded if they perform medication abortion services that could be subject to legal action or sanctions in other jurisdictions.
In New York, the state has purchased 150,000 doses of misoprostol to “meet anticipated needs,” according to the office of Gov. Kathy Hochul (D). The dosage needed by specific patients is dependent on whether the two-drug regimen is used.
If mifepristone is removed from the market, Hochul said, New York is prepared to spend $20 million to support access to other methods of abortion.
Maryland is also partnering with its state university system to acquire enough mifepristone doses for 2.5 years, said the office of Gov. Wes Moore (D), which did not specify the exact number of pills. Moore, who assumed office three months ago, told members of The Washington Post’s editorial board this week that Maryland will protect abortion rights “regardless of what the Supreme Court decides.”
Moore expressed frustration that Democratic states like his are being forced to focus time on “something that has been settled law for decades, that we are validating the use of a drug that has been validated for decades.”
Danco Laboratories, which manufactures mifepristone, said it has been able to meet demand spikes prompted by Democratic states stocking up. To cut down on hoarding, however, Danco may have to resort to a system that restricts providers to ordering their traditional volumes, said spokeswoman Abby Long.
Aside from the states, independent clinics and other medical providers also appear to be stockpiling, she said.
“Overall we’re seeing a dramatic increase in orders from providers because there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty at the moment,” Long said. She added that there are not currently any concerns about shortages.
While the country’s coasts have long been havens for abortion rights, the picture is far different in its heartland.
Colorado last week sought to cement its status as an island of abortion access in the conservative Mountain West, as Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed a trio of bills that prohibit cooperation with out-of-state prosecutions of those who provide or receive abortions; outlaw “deceptive” advertising by antiabortion crisis pregnancy centers; and require most large employers to cover the full cost of abortions.
But the state has not publicly said it would stockpile abortion medication. The attorney general’s office said it could not discuss legal guidance given to state agencies, but a spokesman for Polis said Colorado has been “preparing for this cruel ruling.”
Meanwhile, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) called on Democratic-led states to “band together” — but said they need to look beyond stockpiling abortion medications.
“If the response is, ‘We’ll stockpile instead of protecting all access,’ then we’re minimizing the work that we have to do to make sure that women and families are fully protected,” Lujan Grisham said Sunday on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”
Like New Mexico, which has become a destination for Texans seeking abortions, Illinois has long been seen as a sanctuary for those seeking the procedure from Midwestern states with bans on their books.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said in a statement that second-guessing the safety of mifepristone is “deeply disturbing” and his office would do “everything possible” to protect access to abortion. The promise echoed those of two other Democrats in the Midwest, Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, who have vowed to do everything in their power to ensure protections remain intact.
But their words are little comfort to activists like Jay Becker, a semiretired paralegal in Chicago who has been marching for reproductive rights for decades. She’d already made signs that said: Red state. Blue state. We can’t hide. The war on abortion is nationwide.
“We are calling on people to take to the streets,” she said, fresh off one protest while planning another with Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, a national advocacy group. “Not just once but persistently.”
“We blue states are not havens,” she added. “The case is a neon sign that we can’t hide.”
Thebault reported from Los Angeles, Ovalle from Washington, Brulliard from Boulder, Colo., and Slater from Williamstown, Mass. Scott Wilson in Santa Barbara, Calif., and Aaron Gregg, Danielle Paquette, Christopher Rowland, Nick Anderson, Ovetta Wiggins and Silvia Foster-Frau in Washington contributed to this report.