By GEOFF MULVIHILL
Dueling judicial opinions on the future availability of abortion pills could shake up the U.S. landscape. Less than 10 months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to abortion, upheaval over what’s allowed and what’s not is escalating. In addition to a wave of new state laws, sweeping actions have come from federal judges in Texas and Washington state. The rulings are prompting more court filings in cases likely to wind up before the Supreme Court. There’s other key action, too: Court arguments in Iowa, legislation and litigation in Montana, and a push for tighter restrictions by lawmakers in Nebraska and Florida all may affect future access to abortion.
New court rulings could spark more change for U.S. abortion policy, which has been in flux since last June when the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to an abortion.
Courts are considering big changes, including some with broad implications, as state legislatures enact more restrictions or outright bans.
Here’s what’s happening:
The majority of abortions in the U.S. are obtained using a combination of two medications. Anti-abortion groups have been trying to limit access to one of them.
In dueling decisions last Friday, two federal courts issued conflicting rulings about whether one of the drugs, mifepristone, should remain available.
In a first-of-its kind ruling, a federal judge in Amarillo, Texas, blocked the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the drug, which dates back to the year 2000. The same day, a federal judge in Spokane, Washington, ordered the FDA not to do anything that might block mifepristone’s availability in 17 Democrat-led states suing to keep it on the market. The states are: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, plus the District of Columbia.
President Joe Biden’s administration has asked a court to block the Texas ruling from taking effect as scheduled Saturday. It also asked the Washington court for clarity on its ruling.
Whichever side loses in either case will almost certainly appeal, ultimately all the way to the nation’s highest court.
In the meantime, some Democrat-controlled states, including New York, which announced plans on Tuesday, have been stockpiling abortion pills, while Wyoming last month became the first state to explicitly prohibit abortion drugs.
Across the U.S., advocates have sued over dozens of abortion laws.
In 2019, the Iowa Supreme Court blocked a law prohibiting abortion once cardiac activity can be detected, which occurs after about six weeks of pregnancy and often before women know they are pregnant. Officials in the Republican-dominated state have been pushing to overturn that ruling.
On Tuesday, the issue went before the state Supreme Court, which is now made up entirely of seven Republican appointees. A new decision is expected this summer.
Also on Tuesday, a Montana judge denied Planned Parenthood of Montana’s request to preemptively block legislation before it’s signed that would ban dilation and evacuation abortions, the kind most commonly used in the second trimester of pregnancy. Opponents said they wanted to act quickly because the law would take effect immediately if Gov. Greg Gianforte signs it. Gianforte has previously approved other abortion restrictions.
Nebraska lawmakers are expected to start debate Wednesday on a bill that would ban abortion once cardiac activity can be detected.
In February, the South Carolina state Senate passed such a ban. The same month, the House approved one that would apply throughout pregnancy. The two chambers have not yet negotiated which version to send to the governor.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to run for the GOP presidential nomination next year, has supported ending abortion access earlier than the 15-week mark currently in effect there. The state Senate has approved a ban after six weeks’ gestation. The measure and could win House approval and be sent to DeSantis as soon as this week.
Abortion is already effectively banned at all stages of pregnancy in 13 states, and when cardiac activity can be detected in one.
Courts have blocked bans throughout pregnancy in another five states and in one where the cut-off for the procedure when cardiac activity can be detected.
Republicans in those places and others are pushing for even tougher policies.
This month, Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed a law making it a crime for an adult to help a minor get an abortion without parental consent.
Iowa’s attorney general took another step this month, announcing her office will stop paying for emergency contraception and abortions for sexual assault victims while it studies the policy.
Associated Press’ Margery Beck, Amy Beth Hanson, Anthony Izaguirre, Scott McFetridge and James Pollard also contributed to this report.