Some North Carolina abortion pill restrictions are unlawful, federal judge says

RALEIGH, N.C. — Some of the North Carolina government’s restrictions on the provision of abortion pills — such as requiring that only doctors prescribe the drug and personally provide it to the patient — are illegal because they frustrate Congress’s goal of using federal regulators to ensure that it drug is distributed safely, according to a judge. ruled on Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles in Greensboro awarded a partial victory to an abortion doctor who last year sued state and local prosecutors and state health and medical officials for abortion drug regulations that go beyond those of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Drug Administration.

Other restrictions on the drug mifepristone that have been challenged, such as requiring an in-person consultation 72 hours in advance, an in-person examination and an ultrasound before being prescribed, are not undermined and can remain, Eagles wrote. That’s because they haven’t been expressly reviewed and rejected by the FDA, or because they focus more on the practice of medicine or the general health of patients, she added.

Still, some “legal requirements of state abortion laws pose an obstacle to Congress’ clear and manifest goal of providing a comprehensive regulatory framework for the safe use and distribution of higher-risk drugs administered by the FDA,” wrote Eagles. She asked the parties to submit written judgments and interim measures in the case within a few weeks.

Spokespeople for prosecutor Dr. Amy Bryant and GOP legislative leaders did not immediately comment on the decision Tuesday. The ruling could be appealed.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein, an abortion rights supporter and candidate for governor, was a named legal party in the case. But he did not defend the additional restrictions in court because Stein’s office believed the FDA was taking advantage of them.

“The court ruled that portions of North Carolina’s anti-abortion law that make it more difficult for women, especially in rural North Carolina, to obtain medication abortions are unconstitutional,” Stein said in a written statement. “Republican lawmakers passed the law to police women, not protect them.”

Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the Republican-led General Assembly passed new abortion laws in 2023 that continued or expanded many abortion restrictions, such as moving the ban on most abortions from after 20 weeks of pregnancy to 12 weeks. Restrictions also specifically applied to medication abortions. Violating certain rules may result in criminal, civil and professional penalties.

Republican legislative leaders who were allowed to join the lawsuit to defend the restrictions argued that the FDA had not been given specific authority to set rules for abortion drugs nationwide. While Eagles agreed, she added that there was nothing to indicate that Congress had given the FDA less authority to regulate the use and distribution of mifepristone compared to any other drug it had the power to regulate. to change and reduce restrictions if it proves to be safe.

The FDA approved mifepristone in 2000 to terminate a pregnancy, when used in combination with a second drug, misoprostol. The pills are now used in more than half of all abortions in the US. The U.S. Supreme Court in March heard arguments from lawyers for anti-abortion doctors who asked the court to restrict access to mifepristone, but the justices appeared unwilling to do so. So.

Some of North Carolina’s restrictions on the books had already been removed by federal regulators as unnecessary, Eagles wrote, including that the drug would only be prescribed by a doctor and dispensed in person. The FDA announced in 2021 that women would be able to get a prescription through an online consultation and receive the pills in the mail. Eagles also said the FDA also considers the state’s requirement that a woman schedule an in-person follow-up appointment to be unnecessary.

When the FDA creates a program for a higher-risk drug and expressly imposes and eliminates a limit, “the state cannot reimpose that limit based on drug safety concerns,” Eagles wrote, but demands “that target broader health problems and informed consent to termination of pregnancy” are not anticipated.