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NextImg:Illinois leaders affirm abortion pill access while court battle plays out: ‘Nothing has changed’

Gov. J.B Pritzker and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul on Friday asserted that the abortion drug mifepristone will continue to be available in Illinois while a court battle rages in two other states over the legality of the pill.

Mifepristone, which was approved by the Federal Drug Administration in 2000, is now the subject of dueling legal opinions from federal judges.

In Texas, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, ordered a hold on federal approval of the drug.

In Washington state, U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice, a Barack Obama appointee, ordered federal authorities to not make any changes that would jeopardize access in the 17 states where Democrats had sued to retain access to the drug.

Illinois, where all the top officials are Democrats who support reproductive rights, has become a haven as abortion access has become constricted in the Midwest following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year reversing the Roe decision.

Raoul called the Texas ruling “legally-unsound,” and pledged that Illinois patients would still have access to mifepristone while the legal battles continue.

“I will continue to fight to protect access to medication abortion and for the right of women — in Illinois and beyond our borders — to make their own reproductive health decisions,” Raoul said in a statement Friday.

Pritzker underscored that in Illinois, people’s access to reproductive health services remains intact despite the court ruling.

“Let me be clear: thanks to the Washington decision, nothing has changed in Illinois,” Pritzker said in a statement Friday.

Jennifer Welch, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said Planned Parenthood Illinois had served patients from 34 states since the Roe decision was overturned last year, and the Texas ruling could potentially increase that number as more patients are forced to travel for reproductive healthcare. 

Planned Parenthood Illinois Action PAC Chair Jennifer Welch speaks at a “Roe-vember” press conference at the Planned Parenthood Loop Health Center. Thursday, October 27, 2022.

Planned Parenthood Illinois Action PAC Chair Jennifer Welch speaks at a “Roe-vember” press conference at the Planned Parenthood Loop Health Center. Thursday, October 27, 2022.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Welch on Saturday said Planned Parenthood would continue to provide access to abortions regardless of the outcome of the suits regarding mifepristone or other similar drugs.

“That just means more people will have more financial hardships,” Welch told the Sun-Times Saturday. “We know the medical system in the United States disproportionately harms Black and Brown people in our country, so not only is it an attack on people who can get pregnant, but also an extra hardship for people who’ve been underrepresented by the medical system.”

Welch said the ruling is an “escalation” in the battle against not just reproductive rights, but other medical rights and bodily autonomy. 

“The conservatives who are creating abortion restrictions and rolling back access to gender affirming care all over the country have shown us they fully intend to attack other medications,” Welch said. “The judicial overreach in cases like this threaten all medications in the country but especially medications for sexual and reproductive health.”

U.S. Rep. Mary Miller — a downstate Republican and outspoken abortion opponent, who called the reversal of Roe a “win for white life,” though she later walked it back as “right to life” — tweeted Saturday in support of the Texas ruling.

“Praise God for the important court decision blocking dangerous at-home abortion pills. This is an important step in exposing the cruel chemical abortion industry, which is preying upon young women.”

Other top Illinois Democrats denounced the ruling, including Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

“Access to this critical medication that millions of Americans rely on was stripped away with a stroke of a pen by a single person who was handpicked by Republican extremists dead-set on a nationwide abortion ban,” Duckworth said in a statement Friday. “If one judge in Texas can make a political decision that takes this off the shelves, what’s to stop another judge somewhere else from doing the same thing to insulin or any other prescription drug?”

Duckworth wasn’t alone in concerns about what the suit could mean for other medications already approved by the FDA.

Before leaving Nashville Saturday, where she had gone to visit two Black lawmakers ousted from the state house, Vice President Kamala Harris issued a statement on the legal battle.

“It is contrary to what makes for good public health policy to allow courts and politicians to tell the FDA what it should do,” Harris said.