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Left in "limbo," Colorado clinics watch the courts after Texas judge rules to block abortion pill

Boxes of the drug mifepristone a shelf at the West Alabama Women's Center in Tuscaloosa, AL.
Allen G. Breed
A widely-used abortion pill, mifepristone, is at the center of two contradictory federal lawsuits after a federal judge in Texas ruled against a common abortion pill on April 9, 2023. Colorado clinics are monitoring legal developments that could greatly impact their operations.

After a federal judge in Texas ruled against a common abortion pill last week, Colorado clinics are monitoring legal developments that could greatly impact their operations. Thus far, those operations remain business as usual.

With the issuance of a preliminary injunction, the Texas judge invalidated the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, a pill widely used to end a pregnancy, taken in conjunction with a second type of medication.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which operates clinics all over Colorado, has no plans to stockpile mifepristone for now, according to Adrienne Mansanares, the organization's CEO.

“Every day we examined the legal environment,” Mansanares said. “And at this point we have not decided to change our ordering or any of our warehouse practices.”

However, Planned Parenthood has considered a scenario where providers switch over to using a different pill, by itself, if mifepristone is banned.

“That's possible," Mansanares said. “And it's very clinically effective and safe for patients to receive a medication abortion without mifepristone. So on one hand, we have the clinical protocols ready to go if we need to move into that direction.”

In 2022, two-thirds of all pregnancy terminations in Colorado were medication abortions. In recent years, the number of women having abortions in the state has increased significantly, particularly following the passage of a restrictive Texas abortion law in 2021 and the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last summer.

Since then, abortion laws and related lawsuits have been unfolding across the country. Wyoming’s new abortion ban is now on pause after a judge temporarily blocked the new law in March. Earlier this month, Idaho’s governor signed a bill into law which prohibits adults from helping minors leave the state to get an abortion. Colorado lawmakers are advancing a bill that would aim to protect providers and out-of-state patients from prosecution.

On Friday, as the judge in Texas issued one ruling on mifepristone, another judge in Washington state came out with a contradictory decision, directing the FDA to maintain approval of the abortion pill.

“We are still seeing patients for medication abortion, as well as in-clinic surgical procedures,” Dr. Savita Ginde, chief medical officer at Boulder Valley Health Center said. “And I think that we will continue to provide what we can as long as there's nothing telling us that we can't.”

Ginde says the clinic has no plans to order extra mifepristone for now, not wanting to “hoard” it from others who may need it.

“I'm not surprised with the Texas ruling,” Ginde said. “I don't think many of us were. We expected that. You know, I think it's a very fluid situation. We have to wait and see what happens from the FDA, how this all plays out.”

Many elected officials in Colorado continue to show support for abortion rights. Earlier this week, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser joined 23 of his counterparts in other states, filing a court document challenging the decision from the federal judge in Texas.

In a statement, Colorado Governor Jared Polis called the decision “cruel,” writing that Colorado will continue to protect private medical decisions but did not provide additional details.

The Biden administration has appealed the Texas court’s decision. A ruling on that stay application could come this week.

As KUNC's Senior Editor and Reporter, my job is to find out what’s important to northern Colorado residents and why. I seek to create a deeper sense of urgency and understanding around these issues through in-depth, character driven daily reporting and series work.
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