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WUWM breaks down important Wisconsin issues to help you understand how they impact you and our state.

How the legal battle over mifepristone could impact patients in Wisconsin

Bottles of mifepristone
Federal cases could soon restrict access of mifepristone for patients in Wisconsin.

Updated August 17, from the Associated Press:

Mail-order access to mifepristone, a drug used in the most common form of abortion in the U.S., would end under a new federal appeals court ruling. However, the ruling issued Wednesday can't take effect until the Supreme Court weighs in. The decision by three judges on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned part of a lower court ruling that would have revoked the Food and Drug Administration’s 23-year-old approval of mifepristone. But it left intact part of the ruling that would end the availability of the drug by mail, allow it to be used through only the seventh week of pregnancy rather than the 10th, and require that it be administered in the presence of a physician.

Original story:

There are two opposing court cases that could affect the future of miscarriages and abortion care in the U.S.

Both cases revolve around the safety of mifepristone — a drug that has been used for more than two decades in these procedures. For now, the U.S. Supreme Court is preserving access to the drug, as each case makes its way through the courts.

In Wisconsin, where nearly all abortions are currently illegal, the ruling would largely impact women experiencing miscarriages, for which mifepristone is often prescribed. Mifepristone improves the likelihood that people who have a miscarriage can pass that miscarriage without needing a procedure.

Dr. Amy Domeyer-Klenske, the chair of the Wisconsin section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, says, "If a patient experiences a miscarriage and prefers to utilize a medication, there's often a really important reason for that — why they want to avoid having a surgery or a procedure."

She continues, "It's troubling to hear that [mifepristone] could be taken away for reasons that seem to be unfounded, given this is a a medication that's been safely used in our country for, I think, over 20 years and we know that it is safe and effective."

The outcome of the federal cases could impact the FDA's approval of the drug and providers would then lose the ability to prescribe the medication for any circumstance, in every state.

"I find that utilizing other individuals who don't have that same expertise in science and medicine and getting into legal battles about the use of safe medications would be troubling."

— Dr. Amy Domeyer-Klenske

The case that's challenging the use of mifepristone refers to the Comstock Act of 1873, which makes it illegal to send any "lewd" material (interpreted as things involving sex or sexual health) in the mail. These restrictions include medical equipment, medication, information on sexual health, personal letters describing sex or sexual health, and much more.

Domeyer-Klenske believes that the revival of the Comstock Act and Wisconsin's law making the mailing of mifepristone illegal, doesn't fully consider the need for some patients to have medication mailed to them. "Being able to provide mifepristone through the mail to folks who have a hard time accessing abortion services, where they are legal and where it is legal to mail, just puts up another barrier for patients accessing needed health are."

She says she fears that established protocols that are the most effective and are based on scientific opinions and medical recommendations may need to change because of legislation. "I don't think anyone would want their family member receiving cancer care or receiving blood pressure medication — no one would choose the second best medication when they're offered an option that’s better."


Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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