On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked lower court rulings that would have restricted access to the abortion drug mifepristone. The drug has been used by more than 5 million people since approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000. Mifepristone will remain available in the U.S. — for now — while appeals in the lower courts continue to play out.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon has been advocating for protecting access to mifepristone for Americans. He joined OPB’s Jenn Chávez to discuss the latest ruling.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Jenn Chávez: What was your reaction to Friday’s Supreme Court decision to preserve access to mifepristone, at least for the time being?
Sen. Ron Wyden: Well, it’s obviously good that the medicine is available to women. But make no mistake about it, the Republican Party has been scheming for years to take away every woman’s right to a safe and effective medication. And I laid all of this out on the Senate floor in February: It started with [Republican Senator] Mitch McConnell trying to stack the courts with anti-abortion judges, it involved getting rid of Roe v. Wade. Then they said it was going to go to the states, but it was clear that there was a plan for a national ban. And now there’s an effort to restrict a medicine that’s been safe and effective for 20 years.
Chávez: You argued before the Senate earlier this year that the FDA can and should ignore any ruling that limits access to mifepristone. What authority do you see them having to do so?
Wyden: Well, they do have enforcement discretion. And I want people to understand, as the case works its way through the appeals process the administration ought to do everything it can to make sure access to the medication is not interrupted. And obviously I’d like to see the case fully litigated, and I want to make sure that access to the safe medicine be protected from overreaching judges once and for all.
Chávez: What faith do you have in the Supreme Court and the judicial system in general, right now?
Wyden: If you look at this strategy that I described, very little. And that is why it’s gonna be so important to be vigilant. I appreciated what Gov. Kotek did to protect access to mifepristone in Oregon. But you ask about my confidence with respect to the Supreme Court: not real great.
Related: Oregon secures three-year supply of mifepristone, pending court action
Chávez: You just mentioned how in Oregon, Gov. Tina Kotek announced that the state has acquired a stockpile of three year’s supply of mifepristone, saying this would ensure that people have access to the drug in Oregon regardless of court decisions. Can you speak a bit more about what your outlook for Oregonians’ access to mifepristone is?
Wyden: We are a state that has felt very strongly about protecting access to abortion, safe and effective. And in the wake of the Dobbs decision, we have said as a state we’re going to continue to provide safe sanctuary for many Americans seeking care as well.
Chávez: What will you be watching for, senator, as this case continues to carry out in lower courts?
Wyden: Well, I was struck particularly by Justice [Clarence] Thomas basically saying in his dissent that contraception is on the table. I mean, they are really turning back the clock. They’re prepared, in my view, to say science and precedent be damned. I held the first hearings, for example, on mifepristone when I was a young member of the House of Representatives. This has gone through extensive review. Some analysis says it’s as safe as Tylenol. So when you’re talking about taking away every woman’s right to a safe and effective medication, it shows how extreme Republican leaders have become.
Chávez: You have been involved on this particular issue for decades. How does it feel to be revisiting this issue in 2023?
Wyden: I felt that science was gonna prevail on this point. The reason that I held those hearings and went to great lengths to lay out the scientific record is that we wanted to keep it divorced from politics, and we wanted to say it was all about science. But these extreme Republican judges will just be pulling out all the stops, certainly for years to come, to roll back the rights of women to safe and effective medication.