Washington state stockpiles thousands of abortion pills

By Sarah McCammon (NPR)
April 4, 2023 7 p.m.
Mifepristone is one of two pills used in medication abortions and is used in the vast majority of such abortions in the United States.

Mifepristone is one of two pills used in medication abortions and is used in the vast majority of such abortions in the United States.

Allen G. Breed / AP

Washington state officials have stocked up on a key abortion drug in preparation for the possibility that it could become much more difficult to access nationwide, pending the outcome of a federal lawsuit brought by anti-abortion-rights groups.


Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, says he ordered the Washington Department of Corrections to use its pharmacy license to buy 30,000 doses of mifepristone, an estimated three-year supply for patients in Washington. The pills were received on March 31.

Inslee's office says about 800 abortions per month, or 60% of abortions in the state, take place using pills. State officials say they anticipate increasing demand for abortion pills as a result of restrictions that have taken effect in other states in response to last summer's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization Supreme Court decision.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Texas last year, a coalition of anti-abortion health care providers and medical groups asks a judge to overturn the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone and remove it from the market. Mifepristone was first approved in 2000 for use in combination with another medication, misoprostol, to induce some first-trimester abortions. It’s also used to treat miscarriages and for other gynecological purposes.


The federal judge in charge of the abortion pill case, Matthew Kacsmaryk, is expected to rule any day. Kacsmaryk was appointed by former President Donald Trump and has a history of issuing rulings favorable to conservative causes. In a hearing held in Amarillo on March 15, he asked several questions of lawyers on both sides of the case related to how, in practical terms, a nationwide injunction against mifepristone might be written.

"This Texas lawsuit is a clear and present danger to patients and providers all across the country. Washington will not sit by idly and risk the devastating consequences of inaction," Inslee said in a statement. "We are not afraid to take action to protect our rights. Washington is a pro-choice state and no Texas judge will order us otherwise."

A bill being introduced by Democratic state lawmakers in Washington would give the Department of Corrections the authority to dispense mifepristone to licensed health providers in the state.

Nationwide, at least half of abortions are now done with medication as opposed to surgical procedures, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Mifepristone is used in the vast majority of medication abortions in the United States, according to data from Guttmacher.

Some abortion providers around the country say they're preparing to switch to an alternative medication abortion protocol, which relies on misoprostol alone. That regimen is not FDA-approved but is used widely around the world.

But the actions being taken in Washington could help preserve some access - at least for patients living in or visiting that state - to mifepristone. Medical experts say that protocol for medication abortion is considered the gold standard, because it's more predictable and often less painful for patients.

A competing federal lawsuit filed by a dozen Democratic attorneys general, including Washington's Bob Ferguson, seeks to remove some restrictions on the drug, and to prevent the FDA from removing it from the market.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


Related Stories