It’s not often remembered, but Republican political operatives first stoked moral outrage over abortion in the nineteen-seventies, to shore up their party’s sagging base. Back then, they joined forces with evangelical leaders, such as Jerry Falwell, who sought political allies to maintain the tax-exempt status of their all-white Christian academies. Overt segregation was hardly a winning political issue, but overheated rhetoric from the pulpit about killing “unborn babies” proved to be, and it brought to the G.O.P. a bloc of supporters who previously had not been especially concerned about abortion, and did not typically vote.
If recent polling is correct—according to one survey, only fourteen per cent of Republicans favor banning abortion outright—the current strategy of doubling down on efforts to make the procedure illegal in every state may backfire for the Party electorally. But that is of little consolation to the millions of women who now find that their access to health care hinges on two conflicting court rulings, and that the matter is seemingly headed, once more, to the Supreme Court. On April 7th, a federal district-court judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk, issued an injunction, set to take effect a week later, to halt the F.D.A.’s approval of the abortion drug mifepristone—an approval that the agency gave twenty-three years ago. The case was brought by the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, a Tennessee-based anti-abortion group that set up shop in Amarillo, last August, in order to file suit in the Northern District of Texas. This allowed the case to be heard by Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee who rose to the bench from a conservative-Christian legal nonprofit called the First Liberty Institute, and whose anti-abortion sentiments are well known.
There should be no doubt that mifepristone, which blocks a hormone needed for a pregnancy to proceed, and is also used in cases of miscarriage and for other medical treatments, is safe. It has been prescribed more than four million times in the past two decades. Research has shown that it is safer than acetaminophen. Statistically, taking mifepristone, along with the drug misoprostol, which empties the uterus, is less dangerous than giving birth. More than half the abortions in this country occur using that two-drug regimen. Yet the judge accepted the plaintiff’s claim that “adverse events from chemical abortion drugs can overwhelm the medical system and place ‘enormous pressure and stress’ on doctors during emergencies and complications.”
In an emergency motion filed on April 10th at the Fifth Circuit, lawyers for the Department of Justice, seeking to stay Kacsmaryk’s ruling pending an appeal, noted that the judge had substantiated some of his claims by citing an article sourced from anonymous blog posts. Kacsmaryk also held that complications from medication abortions are most likely to overwhelm health services in “maternity-care deserts,” but failed to acknowledge that many of those deserts have been created by restrictive rules passed by anti-abortion legislators—as in Texas, where lawmakers have cut off funds to Planned Parenthood, whose clinics provided routine women’s-health services…