Federal lawsuit against North Carolina seeks to overturn state restrictions on abortion pill

25 January 2023

GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – A gynecologist based in Orange County has filed a federal lawsuit in Greensboro to implore the state of North Carolina to overturn a restriction on access to the controversial abortion drug mifepristone, creating yet another battlefield in the dispute about access to the drug.

Dr. Amy Bryant, who practices under UNC Health in Hillsborough and Chapel Hill, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, ABC News first reported, because the state is one of several that limits access to the drug, which is used to terminate early pregnancies.

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Access to the abortion drug mifepristone is limited in North Carolina. A lawsuit filed in Greensboro seeks to overturn that. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed, File)

Her suit names Attorney General Josh Stein in his official capacity. She is represented by the Atlanta-based law firm King & Spalding, which has an office in Charlotte.

Her suit says the state’s ban is illegal because the drug is approved by the Federal Drug Administration. Access to abortion pills has been banned in some states since the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade and its federal provision for abortion access.

Thirteen states have passed laws that ban almost all legal abortions. North Carolina has a 20-week limit on abortions – although legislators have discussed the possibility of narrowing that window during their current underway – but the prohibition of mifepristone is separate from that.

“North Carolina cannot stand in the shoes of [the] FDA to impose restrictions on medication access that FDA determined are not appropriate and that upset the careful balance FDA was directed by Congress to strike,” ABC News quoted from Bryant’s complaint.

Mifepristone usually is taken in a two-drug regimen within the first 11 weeks of pregnancy to cause a miscarriage. It is said to be about 95% effective.

In North Carolina, mifepristone is allowed early in pregnancy, but the state also requires that the drug be obtained through a prescription from a doctor in a “specially certified surgical facility” and with 72 hours of advance counseling, ABC reported.

The FDA says the drug is safe enough to be prescribed by telehealth appointments and mailed to a person without a personal exam. ABC reported. Some pharmacies, including Walgreens and CVS, have said they would join that plan.

Bryant told ABC said there’s “no medical reason for politicians to interfere or restrict access” to the drug.

A similar lawsuit was filed in October in Wake County Superior Court, with three doctors and a nurse practitioner joining an earlier suit filed in the region by Planned Parenthood.

In June, just after the Supreme Court’s ruling, Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a statement to say that states cannot ban mifepristone in a dispute with the federal government because it had been approved by the FDA.

But a medical organization filed a federal suit in Texas late last year to seek the drug be banned entirely. The Alliance of Hippocratic Medicine challenges the FDA’s approval. There could be a ruling next month, and other courts will be watching that.

Walmart last fall had rescinded a company policy that forbade pharmacies in North Carolina from filling prescriptions for the drug. That policy had come under attack from Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro) and the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy.

Stein, who recently announced he is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor and has been vocal in supporting access to abortion rights, did not respond immediately with a statement about Bryant’s suit.

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