What Would a Ban of Abortion Pill Mifepristone Mean for Women in Santa Barbara?

Texas Lawsuit Against FDA Could Further Erode Reproductive Rights Across the Country

What Would a Ban of

Abortion Pill Mifepristone

Mean for Women

in Santa Barbara?

Texas Lawsuit Against FDA Could Further Erode

Reproductive Rights Across the Country

by Callie Fausey | March 25, 2023

Protesters at the Women’s March this January | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

A lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is threatening the approval and nationwide distribution of a decades-old abortion medication used across the country, leaving people even in Santa Barbara’s blue boundaries wary about the future of reproductive health care. 

Since the federal right to abortion granted through Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022, conservative states and anti-abortion groups have been working to construct more barriers to abortion care. A conservative federal judge in Texas, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, is set to rule on the lawsuit targeting the abortion pill mifepristone, one half of a two-pill regimen that makes up one of the country’s most common methods to safely and effectively terminate pregnancies. 

Paula Lopez at 2023 Women’s March | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

“I know women here in Santa Barbara who never thought that Roe v. Wade would be overturned, and they sat on the sidelines during elections thinking it would never be touched,” said Paula Lopez, president of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee. “Well, now it’s not only touched; these rights are being yanked away, and they’re not stopping with Roe v. Wade.”

The ruling may have far-reaching implications, including in states where abortion is legal. Even California — where the right to reproductive freedom was written into the state’s constitution with the passage of Proposition 1 last year — could feel the effects if the judge rules in the plaintiff’s favor, which is the case’s anticipated outcome. If the case results in a nationwide ban of the drug, it would limit options for abortion for women throughout the country and put more strain on abortion providers. 

“Removing mifepristone from the market presents a real threat to people’s ability to access abortion care, which is already out of reach for millions due to the overturning of Roe and states banning abortion,” said a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Central Coast. “This is compounded for many who face barriers to health care as a result of systemic racism and discrimination. Locally, we have been working with partner organizations to inform our supporters about this case and be prepared for a decision.”

Anti-Abortionists v. FDA

The lawsuit was filed by Christian anti-abortion group Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of multiple anti-abortion groups and doctors in November. Their main argument is that the FDA rushed the process of mifepristone’s approval at the expense of ensuring the drug’s safety, and they are asking Trump-appointed Judge Kacsmaryk to revoke or suspend its approval. 

The FDA’s main defense is that since the drug was approved in 2000, research has proved that the regimen is safe and effective and that challenging the drug’s approval could disrupt reproductive care for women nationwide and undermine science-backed, federal oversight for prescription drugs. An analysis of medication abortion risk at UC San Francisco found that nearly five million women have used the regimen as of 2021, and that medication abortion is safer than carrying a pregnancy to term or using other common medicines like penicillin, Tylenol, and Viagra. 

During the pandemic, the FDA lifted the in-person requirement for prescription of the pill and finalized that decision in January, which has allowed people in states where abortion is illegal to have some work-around and receive the medication by mail. That, in part, provoked the unprecedented push to block the FDA’s approval of the drug nationwide by anti-abortion groups.

But it’s a complex situation — the FDA has the ability to appeal a nationwide injunction and exercise its discretion to safeguard the drug’s distribution. In addition, if mifepristone’s distribution were blocked, the regimen’s other pill, misoprostol, could be used on its own to safely terminate pregnancies. However, that would decrease the efficacy from 95 to 88 percent, and increase risks of unwanted side effects such as nausea and diarrhea. 

‘The Fog Is Lifting’

Laury Oaks, a feminist studies professor at UC Santa Barbara who specializes in sexual and reproductive politics, said that the goal of many anti-abortion and conservative movements is to “constrain and restrict sexual and reproductive autonomy.” She said the topic is an important one “at every level, from the local to the state to the national,” and she’s seen how conservative political “playbooks,” as she calls them, have been intentionally put into action since the 1980s. 

UCSB Feminist Studies Professor Laury Oaks | Credit: Sonia Fernandez

“To me, this is really a distressing moment, but it isn’t surprising,” Oaks said. “And I think in some ways, it feels like maybe some people were under Roe v. Wade fog. And maybe Roe allowed a broader group of people to not really focus on how, in fact, even Roe itself wasn’t allowing for justice and inclusion and access for the vast majority of people. And some people, I think, thought that Roe was a guarantee.” 

Oaks continued that the “silver lining” to abortion access being challenged, and the seemingly “constant headlines” about reproductive rights being stripped away, might be that “the fog is lifting, and people can see it for what it really is.” 

Lopez shared a similar sentiment, saying she hopes that the ruling and legislation banning abortion medication coming out of states like Texas and Wyoming will “motivate women from where they’re sitting on the sidelines.” 

“Our power is at the ballot box,” Lopez said. “And we showed that in November when we passed Prop. 1, and we’ll continue to fight against any kinds of rulings that hamper our efforts at protecting our bodies and our choices.”

‘Safe Haven’ State Steps Up

State officials and pro-choice activists in California have implemented actions in the wake of Proposition 1 and in response to Judge Kacsmaryk’s upcoming preliminary ruling — expected to come any day — to protect and advocate for abortion care.

In response to Walgreens’ preemptive decision not to dispense mifepristone in 21 states, Governor Gavin Newsom announced on March 8 that California is pulling back its renewal of a multimillion-dollar contract with the pharmacy, set for renewal on May 1. California Attorney General Rob Bonta has also made statements in support of medication abortion and taken actions toward protecting abortion access, such as launching the California Reproductive Rights Task Force last year. 

Some students from California universities are advocating through PAACT (Preserve Abortion Access California Taskforce), a student-run reproductive justice network affiliated with the UC Center for Gender & Health Justice representing the UC and CSU campuses. Their goal is to support the rapid and equitable implementation of Senate Bill 24, requiring all UC and CSU campuses to provide medication abortion to its students as of January 1, 2023.

“Ultimately, we are documenting this process with the motive of creating a systematic approach that is replicable for student-led reproductive justice organizations at all ages, backgrounds, disciplines, and areas of California, as well as on a national and global scale,” said UCSB student and PAACT cofounder Devanshi Tomar. “There is an idea that this fight is about choice. Even before the fall of Roe, there were thousands of people of underrepresented minorities who didn’t have the options to choose from in the first place.”

Winnie Xu, PAACT co-founder and an undergraduate student at UCLA, said that in light of the FDA lawsuit, their goal to preserve abortion access in California “remains critical and timely,” and questions and issues raised as they move forward will center on California’s response if medication abortion options become limited. 

“Although California currently protects the legal access toward abortion,” Xu said, “to meet the state’s promise to be a safe haven for those seeking abortions, we must preserve, protect, and insulate abortion access from the legal reach of other states, the depletion of abortion funding, and barriers to safe abortions.”


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.