Cantwell Addresses SCOTUS Mifepristone Ruling on Senate Floor

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) spoke on the Senate floor about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to toss out a case on procedural grounds that threatened the Food and Drug Administration’s longstanding approval of mifepristone, a safe and commonly prescribed pill used to administer abortions.

Sixty percent of abortions in the State of Washington are done with this drug. It’s a highly safe and effective medication, used by millions of Americans, and the court ruled on standing alone.  It didn’t reach any conclusion about the ludicrous arguments that the plaintiffs were making.  So America should not rest on this decision, because anti-choice activists are going to keep using the courts to target abortion.  It’s just another reminder of why we have to fight for reproductive freedom and why we can’t rest,” Sen. Cantwell said.

In April 2023, federal district court Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk issued a ruling that suspended the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) more than 20-year-old approval of mifepristone. That ruling threatened access to mifepristone for patients nationwide – including in states like Washington that have expressly codified the right to an abortion into law – as well as FDA’s Congressionally-mandated authority and drug approval process. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August that although the FDA’s approval of mifepristone in 2000 could remain in place, other steps that the FDA took to expand access, like allowing mifepristone to be accessed via telemedicine, must be overturned. The Fifth Circuit ruling did not go into effect because the Supreme Court issued a stay that allowed mifepristone to remain on the market while it considered the case. The Court heard arguments in March and issued its ruling today.

Mifepristone is safe and widely used — over 60% of the abortions provided in Washington state are medication abortions. 

In December, Sen. Cantwell joined a resolution expressing support for mifepristone and calling for the FDA’s approval of the drug to be respected. The resolution followed the Supreme Court’s announcement it would review a lower court ruling that would restrict access to mifepristone nationwide. Sen. Cantwell actively tracked the litigation, which has significant ramifications for access to this medication, from the beginning and joined colleagues to file amicus briefs at multiple stages in the litigation, including joining 263 Members of Congress to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court.

 Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs, abortion has become inaccessible in much of the United States. The resulting delays and denials of care have already had baleful effects on the health of pregnant individuals, for some of whom pregnancy is a life-threatening condition, regardless of their desire to carry their fetus to term. If left to stand, the Fifth Circuit’s order would have exacerbated these adverse health outcomes by placing unnecessarily restrictions on access to the most common method of early abortion—a two-drug regimen of mifepristone and misoprostol. Moreover, restricting access to mifepristone—also used in combination with misoprostol for the management of early miscarriage—would mean fewer options for treating early pregnancy loss, which includes a spontaneous abortion, missed abortion, incomplete abortion, or inevitable abortion. These conditions can be life-threatening, including posing a risk of sepsis or loss of future pregnancy capacity, if not treated quickly.

Since the Court rejected the plaintiffs’ case on standing grounds, the threat remains. Last week, Sen. Cantwell spoke on the floor, and warned of anti-choice activists, “They’re not done.” 

Video of Sen. Cantwell’s remarks today is available HERE, audio HERE, and a transcript HERE.