Health Care

Washington to stockpile abortion medication ahead of federal ruling

The state Department of Corrections purchased a three-year supply of mifepristone, the drug used in most medication abortions.
Washington Sen. Karen Keiser (D), left, and Gov. Jay Inslee (D), seated. (AP Photo / Rachel La Corte)

Washington State officials have purchased a three-year stockpile of a common abortion medication in advance of a decision in a federal case out of Texas that may curtail access to the drug in the coming weeks.

At a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said he had ordered the state Department of Corrections to purchase 30,000 doses of mifepristone. Inslee said the shipment had arrived in state hands last week.

The University of Washington ordered another 10,000 doses, Inslee said, enough to cover the state for about another year.

Washington is the first state to lock in a supply of mifepristone, a drug that was first approved for use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000. 

Most abortions in the United States, 53%, are done with medication like mifepristone, according to data from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights group. In Washington State, about 60% of abortions are medication abortions, Inslee’s office said.

But the drug’s future is under question after anti-abortion rights groups filed suit in federal court in a Texas jurisdiction. The judge in that case, Matthew Kacsmaryk, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, appears poised to overturn the FDA’s 23-year-old decision to authorize the drug’s use.

“People need to know that the State of Washington has, is and will always stand up for the right of choice in our state,” Inslee said at a press conference Tuesday. “There is a real threat that a Trump-appointed judge in Texas could take action which could jeopardize the ability of Washington women to have access to this safe drug.”

Inslee turned to the Department of Corrections to secure the supply because the agency has a pharmacy license. He said he would turn to the legislature to authorize the Department to distribute and sell the medication.

State Senate President Karen Keiser (D) will introduce that bill.

“We’ve been working for the last several days on being able to go forward with this proposal,” Keiser said. “Abortion rights and reproductive freedom means nothing without access, and if patients don’t have access, they might as well not have a legal right.”

If Kacsmaryk issues a nationwide injunction against the use of mifepristone, abortion providers are likely to switch to another protocol that relies on a separate drug, misoprostol, a medication commonly used in conjunction with mifepristone in most medical abortions today.

A separate legal case brought by 12 Democratic attorneys general, led by Washington’s Bob Ferguson (D) and Oregon’s Ellen Rosenblum (D), seeks to force the FDA to end restrictions on mifepristone. The drug is one of just a handful of those approved by the FDA that falls under a set of restrictions known as Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies, restrictions that apply to opioids and sedatives.

— Austin Jenkins contributed reporting to this story.