Attorney General William Tong during a press conference on April 10, 2023 Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

State officials and reproductive rights advocates gathered Monday to stress that the medication abortion pill mifepristone was still legal in Connecticut despite conflicting rulings by federal court judges in Texas and Washington last week.

A Friday ruling by Judge Mathew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, placed a preliminary injunction on the Food and Drug Administration’s long standing approval of the pill, which has been used for decades for medical abortions as well as part of a cocktail prescribed by doctors to help women manage miscarriages. 

Meanwhile, a nearly simultaneous ruling in a different case by Judge Thomas Rice of the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Washington required the FDA to maintain the availability of the drug in 17 states including Connecticut. 

“It is the law of the state of Connecticut today, tomorrow and as long as we’re in this fight that mifepristone and medication abortion is, in Connecticut, legal, safe, effective and available. Period. Full stop,” Attorney General William Tong said during a morning press conference in Hartford. 

Tong was among the attorneys general to challenge the FDA’s policies on dispensing the drug as too restrictive in the Washington case. On Monday, he railed against the ruling by the Texas-based judge as misogynistic. 

“Even reading the decision that we like in federal court in Washington about the FDA and its imposition of these unduly restrictive requirements on the use of mifepristone, you just are left with the feeling and understanding that this just total bullshit,” Tong said, “and just reflects this ongoing, deep-seated, abiding, pervasive, pernicious misogyny in our law.”

Medication abortions represent more than half of all abortions performed nationwide and in Connecticut, according to Dr. Nancy Stanwood, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England.

Stanwood said that over the years, mifepristone has been shown to be safe and more than 99% effective. If restrictions on the pill are eventually upheld by higher courts, patients would still have access to medication abortion through another pill, misoprostol, which she said is less effective and causes more side effects. 

Stanwood called the judge’s decision to retroactively block the FDA’s 2000 approval of the mifepristone “unprecedented.”

“[It] could be deeply harmful for nationwide abortion access and also for miscarriage care that mifepristone is a part of,” she said. “If allowed to go into effect, it could make it more difficult for patients seeking medication abortion to access care amidst an already crisis situation for abortion access across the country.” 

Stanwood said the number of out-of-state patients seeking abortions in Connecticut has risen by 30% since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. 

In response to that ruling, state lawmakers  passed legislation meant to shield patients and doctors who elect to conduct the procedure in Connecticut from legal action by states where abortion has been made illegal. The law also added certified APRNs and physician assistants to the providers allowed to perform aspiration abortions, the most common type of in-clinic abortion.

In his two-year budget proposal, Gov. Ned Lamont included $2 million to assist patients in states with limited abortion access to travel to Connecticut. Although a bill on the matter did not pass out of the Human Services Committee, Lamont said he expected it would be included in the proposal currently being drafted by the legislature’s budget-writing committees. 

The governor called the recent court ruling “a big deal,” which he expected to have far-reaching political repercussions. 

“You’re upsetting, in this case, 23 years of a drug that’s been very effective at providing women the reproductive choices they need,” Lamont said. “I think a lot of people worry, what next for a judge? You know, maybe they don’t like contraception. Where are they going to stop? Maybe they don’t like vaccines. How often are they going to start overruling the FDA?”