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

Tuesday, April 30, 2024
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RALEIGH, N.C. -- Some of North Carolina government's restrictions on dispensing abortion pills - such as requiring that only doctors provide the drug - are unlawful because they frustrate the goal of Congress to use regulators to ensure the drug is distributed safely, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles in Greensboro granted a partial victory to a physician who performs abortions and last year sued state and local prosecutors and state health and medical officials.

Other restrictions on the drug mifepristone that were challenged, however, such as requiring an in-person consultation 72 hours in advance and an in-person examination before a prescription, are not preempted, Eagles wrote. That is because they have not been expressly reviewed and rejected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or because they focus more on the practice of medicine and potential pregnancy-related health issues, she added.

Republican legislative leaders who joined the lawsuit to defend the restrictions argued the FDA hadn't received specific powers to set regulations on abortion drugs across the nation. While Eagles agreed, she added 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 upon which it had the power to alter and reduce restrictions if found to be safe.

Some of North Carolina's restrictions that remain on the books already had been removed by federal regulators as unnecessary, she wrote, including that the drug be prescribed only by a physician and dispensed in person.

Spokespeople for plaintiff Dr. Amy Bryant, GOP legislative leaders and Attorney General Josh Stein didn't immediately respond Tuesday to emails seeking comment. The ruling could be appealed.

The FDA approved mifepristone in 2000 to end pregnancy, when used in combination with a second drug, misoprostol. The pills are now used in more than half of all abortions in the U.S.

Stein, a Democrat and abortion-rights supporter, didn't defend the additional restrictions in court because Stein's office contended they were preempted by the FDA.