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Abortion providers wait for the Supreme Court to weigh in on mifepristone

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Justice Department says it will take its fight to protect access to abortion pills all the way to the Supreme Court.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The newest request - that the widely used abortion pill mifepristone remain available while a lawsuit makes its way through the courts. So what does this fast-moving case mean for doctors who provide abortions?

KRISTYN BRANDI: Generally, it's just been chaos, frankly.

FADEL: Dr. Kristyn Brandi is an OB-GYN in New Jersey. She says the legal battles are complicating the kind of medical care she can provide.

MARTIN: NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin is here with us once again to tell us more.

Good morning, Selena.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So reminder - just a quick reminder for those who may not have been following this. There are two competing decisions in different parts of the country right now that concern this abortion pill, mifepristone.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, exactly. So this is one medication that's used to stop a pregnancy either for abortion or treatment of miscarriage. It's used in combination with another drug. And mifepristone has become the center of cases going through the federal courts right now. It's quite likely that the Supreme Court will weigh in soon. And in the meantime, doctors who provide abortions still have patients to see. They told me they're confused. They're angry. They're frustrated. Here's more of what Dr. Kristyn Brandi said.

BRANDI: Every couple of minutes, I'm getting a call from a friend of mine from across the country that's an abortion provider trying to figure out if they can provide care. Offices are getting calls from patients asking if they can still get their medication abortion that they have scheduled. So it's just been mayhem.

MARTIN: But I understand that access to mifepristone may change in some places, in some ways as soon as tomorrow. So how are doctors figuring out what they're supposed to do or what they're allowed to do?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah. I mean, a lot of lawyers are trying to make educated guesses here about how to advise clinics, but it kind of comes down to how much risk you as a doctor are willing to take. Are you comfortable still giving out pills you have in stock? Are you comfortable prescribing a medication based on your understanding of the evidence of the safety and efficacy? My colleague Sarah McCammon spoke to Dr. Colleen McNicholas at Planned Parenthood in Illinois, who said because of the supportive officials in her state, they're going to keep providing mifepristone.

COLLEEN MCNICHOLAS: And so for us, nothing changes tomorrow. We are going to continue to provide medication abortion in the way that we were a week ago.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Certainly other providers in less friendly states are making a different calculus. They're going to stop giving out mifepristone based on their reading of how the latest court rulings apply to them.

MARTIN: Now, this seems to be a lot to keep track of for patients and for doctors, and I'm thinking particularly for patients who are already in an emotional and stressful situation.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Absolutely. But, you know, the OB-GYNs I talked with yesterday made the point that abortion providers are used to navigating restrictions. Here's Dr. Jamila Perritt, an OB-GYN here in Washington, D.C.

JAMILA PERRITT: Every morning we wake up and there's a new assault - new rules, new mandates, new restrictions, new demands - all, though, in line with the same intention to eliminate abortion access.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Now, one thing to note is abortion procedures aren't affected by any of these cases. They are still available in states where abortion is legal, and even medication abortion is available too, just possibly not with this drug at the center of this legal fight.

MARTIN: And finally, last night, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law that bans most abortions in Florida. Tell us more about this law.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, it's a six-week ban, but it doesn't go into effect right away. It's set to go into effect 30 days after the state Supreme Court decides a case challenging its current abortion law. It would have huge implications if it did take effect for abortion access in the South. But for now, nothing changes.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin.

Selena, thank you so much.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Selena Simmons-Duffin reports on health policy for NPR.