The Pulse

NC doctor challenges state restrictions on abortion pill

By: - January 25, 2023 3:30 pm
abortion pills

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito postponed a ruling on access to the abortion pill until Friday (Photo: Peter Dazeley/GettyImages

An Ob/Gyn with a practice in Orange County is suing in federal court over restrictions the state imposes on providing an abortion pill.

Photo: Peter Dazeley/GettyImages

State requirements for giving patients a drug called mifepristone go beyond what the Food and Drug Administration requires. The extra restrictions the state imposes were considered and rejected by the FDA, the lawsuit says, and they are not needed to ensure safety.

“As a physician, my number one priority is the health and wellbeing of my patients,” Dr. Amy Bryant, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a statement.

 We know from years of research and use that medication abortion is safe and effective – there’s no medical reason for politicians to interfere or restrict access to it, or for states to force doctors to comply with mandates not supported by medicine or science. These burdensome restrictions on medication abortion force physicians to deal with unnecessary restrictions on patient care and on the healthcare system.”

North Carolina controls include “restrictions that FDA has specifically rejected – that upset the carefully balanced regulatory scheme established by federal law,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court Wednesday and names state Attorney General Josh Stein, members of the NC Medical Board, state Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley, and Jeff Neiman, the district attorney in Orange and Chatham counties as defendants in their official capacities.

A spokeswoman for Stein’s office said in an email the office is reviewing the complaint. A spokeswoman for the NC Medical Board said in an email it was aware of the lawsuit, but she could not comment.

The FDA first approved mifepristone as an abortion method in 2000, and now medication abortions account for more than half the abortions in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Mifepristone is the first of two medications taken to induce abortion.  Abortion with pills is approved for use in pregnancies through 10 weeks.

North Carolina requires in-person appointments with doctors, with patients taking mifepristone while doctors are present. The pill can be provided only in a specific type of medical facility, after state mandated counseling, a 72-hour waiting period, and in some cases, after an ultrasound.

The FDA allows telehealth appointments, and this year began to allow certain pharmacies to dispense the medication. Patients can take the pill at home if they want. The certified providers prescribing the medication don’t have to be doctors, under FDA rules. The FDA does not require a waiting period.

The extra state restrictions impose “significant cost and burdens” on Bryant and her patients, the lawsuit says. Bryant would be able to see more patients and at a lower cost but for the restrictions, the lawsuit says. And since timing is important when taking abortion pills, the extra time the state requires might push some patients beyond the time window allowed for mifepristone use, requiring procedures that are more expensive and more involved.

The North Carolina lawsuit adds to the focus on abortion pills after the U.S. Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortion.

An abortion pill manufacturer filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday in West Virginia challenging a state ban, The New York Times reported.

Anti-abortion health care groups are challenging FDA approval of mifepristone in a federal lawsuit filed late last year.

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Lynn Bonner
Lynn Bonner

Investigative Reporter Lynn Bonner covers the state legislature and politics, as well as elections, the state budget, public and mental health, safety net programs and issues of racial equality.