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Washington state attorney general says FDA rules on abortion drug are unreasonable

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, seen speaking at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., last March, is one of a dozen state attorneys general arguing for expanded access to an abortion pill that carries extra FDA restrictions.
Ted S. Warren
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, seen speaking at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., last March, is one of a dozen state attorneys general arguing for expanded access to an abortion pill that carries extra FDA restrictions.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson says he is suing the Food and Drug Administration because the restrictions on the abortion drug mifepristone are "entirely unreasonable and not medically necessary."

Ferguson, who spoke with NPR's All Things Considered on Saturday, is one of a dozen Democratic attorneys general who filed a lawsuit accusing the federal agency of excessively regulating the drug.

Mifepristone is typically used in combination with misoprostol to induce abortion in the first trimester. Ferguson says it's one of just 60 drugs — out of more than 20,000 medications approved by the FDA — to have extra restrictions that make the drug difficult to prescribe and dispense.

Ferguson said that while the FDA has not added any new restrictions on the medication since the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade, overturning the right to an abortion, the options for Americans seeking a safe abortion have grown limited across the country.

Ferguson also said the lawsuit serves as a countermeasure to a case before a Texas judge, who could soon rule to cut off access nationwide to the abortion pill.

"What the plaintiffs in that case are asking from that very conservative judge is to put a national injunction in place, saying that mifepristone should not be available to anybody in the United States anywhere," Ferguson told NPR's Michel Martin. "So our view is, while that case is going on, we have filed a case that takes the opposite position: that actually mifepristone should be expanded in terms of its access."

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

On why a coalition of State Attorneys General are filing the lawsuit now

Ever since the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, my team has looked for ways in which we can enhance reproductive options for the people of my state.

It became clear to us that this medication was being limited in terms of its access by the FDA in a way that we thought was entirely unreasonable and not medically necessary, and that's why we're filing this lawsuit to enhance the availability of this important medication for the people of my state and the other states who joined our lawsuit.

On what makes these extra restrictions on mifepristone burdensome

To give you an example, pharmacies must be specially certified in order to provide this medication. We filed this lawsuit in eastern Washington. As an example, Washington State University, the pharmacy there on campus is not certified to provide this medication because it's a hassle for them. It's administratively difficult. Why are we putting these pharmacies through this burdensome process for a medication that is perfectly safe and literally safer than Tylenol? It makes no medical sense.

Study after study demonstrates that this medication is safe. Obviously anything you put in your body inherently has some risk. There is evidence that this medication is as safe or safer than using Viagra. Viagra does not have these limitations. Why do they have it for a product that women would utilize?

On why they are filing this lawsuit

In my ten years as attorney general, I have filed about 110 lawsuits against presidential administrations of both Democratic presidents and Republican presidents. I think in those, I've lost exactly three cases. So I don't file a lawsuit against anyone, especially an administration, a president, unless I feel very confident that we are right on the law and that the rights of the people of my state are very much on the line. That is the case in this situation and why we're confident it will prevail.

On the goal of the lawsuit

If we're successful, at a minimum, in those dozen or so states, access to mifepristone would still be available even if this judge in Texas enters an opinion that tries to put a national injunction in place preventing people in this country from accessing mifepristone. Again, the attacks on women's reproductive freedoms continue post Dobbs, and this is the clearest example yet.

NPR's Gurjit Kaur and Miranda Kennedy produced and edited this story for broadcast.

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Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Gurjit Kaur
Gurjit Kaur is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. A pop culture nerd, her work primarily focuses on television, film and music.