Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
April 7, 2023
This Friday night’s news dump is a biggie: Texas judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, an antiabortion Trump appointee, has ruled that the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the drug mifepristone in 2000 was flawed and must be suspended. In the 23 years since its approval, the drug has been widely proved to be safe, and this is the first time a court has ordered the FDA to remove a drug from the market.
Mifepristone is used to induce abortions as well as for other medical applications. Although the Supreme Court argued last year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, that getting rid of Roe would enable states to make their own decisions about abortion, Kacsmaryk’s decision would remove mifepristone across the entire United States. Mifepristone accounts for about 53% of medically induced abortions.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who has led the administration’s policy on reproductive rights, noted that Kacsmaryk’s decision does not simply impact abortion: it opens the door to politicizing chemotherapy drugs, asthma medicine, blood pressure pills, insulin, and so on.
Kacsmaryk also said that mailing mifepristone across state lines is illegal based on the Comstock Act, which Congress passed in 1873, making it illegal to send contraceptive materials through the mail. He went further than that, though, going far beyond the Dobbs decision to embrace the concept that a fertilized egg is an “unborn human” from the time of conception.
He stayed the ruling for a week to give the government time to respond.
President Joe Biden vowed to fight the ruling. He noted that the Department of Justice has already filed an appeal and will seek an immediate stay. “But let’s be clear,” he wrote, “the only way to stop those who are committed to taking away women’s rights and freedoms in every state is to elect a Congress who will pass a law restoring Roe versus Wade. Vice President Harris and I will continue to lead the fight to protect a woman’s right to an abortion, and to make her own decisions about her own health. That is our commitment.”
Less than an hour after Kacsmaryk’s ruling, federal judge Thomas O. Rice in Washington state issued an injunction prohibiting the FDA from pulling mifepristone from the market.
With two opposing rulings in place, the case will go quickly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But the Supreme Court has its own issues right now. Today, Justice Clarence Thomas released a statement saying that he did not disclose the lavish gifts he received from right-wing megadonor Harlan Crow on the advice of “colleagues and others in the judiciary,” but he did not say who those individuals were. He says he will comply with new regulations in the future.
Thomas said that he and his wife Ginni had been dear friends of the Crows for over 25 years, but he joined the court over 30 years ago, making more than one commenter note that the friendship certainly seemed to be based on Crow’s access to the Supreme Court through Thomas. In 2011, Ian Millhiser, then of ThinkProgress, noted that Thomas sided with the American Enterprise Institute and the Center for the Community Interest, both of which were affiliated with Crow, in every case concerning them that had come before the Supreme Court.
A couple of other stories before I call it quits tonight:
The Internal Revenue Service yesterday explained how it intends to use the $80 billion appropriated for it by the Inflation Reduction Act. After a decade of budget cuts, audit and enforcement rates on taxpayers earning $1 million or more annually had dropped significantly, from 7.2% in 2011 to just 0.7% in 2019. The IRS will focus on restoring those audits.
It will also look at allowing taxpayers to file directly with the government system for free, as taxpayers in other countries do. This plan has the lobbyists who work for tax preparers fighting back out of fear such a free system will cripple their businesses. They are joining with Republicans to complain that such a system will give the government too much information about individual taxpayers.
Today’s jobs report for March showed continuing job growth as unemployment fell to 3.5% and the economy added another 236,000 jobs. Unemployment among Black Americans is at a historic low of 5%. While jobs are still being added, they are increasing at a slower rate than they have been. Wage increases are also slowing, which reinforces the idea that inflation will continue to ease and perhaps lead the Federal Reserve to slow down on the interest rate hikes that cool the economy.
In a statement, President Biden noted the good jobs news and reminded people that the government is investing in infrastructure, innovation, and clean energy to build the economy for the long term. But, he warned, “[e]xtreme MAGA Republicans in Congress…are threatening to wreak havoc on our economy with debt limit brinkmanship. Their extreme agenda would send the unprecedented investments we’ve made here in America—along with the jobs that come with it—overseas. And it’s all to pay for even more giveaways to the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations.” He promised to stop them from moving the country backward.
Today, Vice President Harris traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, where she met with the state Democratic caucus and with the two young Black legislators, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, whose colleagues expelled them from the state legislature yesterday. While in Nashville, she spoke at historically Black Fisk University to call for gun safety legislation and condemn the expulsion of the Democratic lawmakers.