Texas judge hears case that could ban abortion pills nationwide.
Ohio sues Norfolk Southern over toxic derailment.
Russian warplane forces down US surveillance drone over Black Sea.
Texas judge hears case that could ban abortion pills nationwide
A federal judge in Amarillo, TX, heard arguments today in a case brought by anti-abortion groups seeking to ban the sale of the abortion medication mifepristone nationwide. Attorneys for the Texas-based organization Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine contends that the FDA used improperly approved the drug in 2000. The group argues that the FDA and did not adequately assess its use by girls under age 18 to terminate a pregnancy.
Mifepristone is part of a two-drug regimen used to abort a pregnancy, usually before 10 weeks gestation. More than half of all abortions in the US are managed with medication. Mifepristone also has several other approved uses that have nothing to do with abortion. These include treating uterine fibroids and managing symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome.
Department of Justice attorneys defending the FDA said that mifepristone has a proven track record of being safe and effective. The DOJ also argued that the challenge comes much too late as the drug was approved 23 years ago. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also filed an amicus brief in support of the FDA, saying mifepristone “has been thoroughly studied and is conclusively safe”.
Women’s health advocates say taking mifepristone off the market would force more women to undergo unnecessary surgical procedures. It would further overwhelm abortion clinics that are already struggling to meet the needs of women who often have to travel several states away.
Trump-appointed judge tried to keep hearing quiet
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who presided over the case, asked the attorneys involved early last week not to publicize when and where the hearing would be held. Kacsmaryk hoped to minimize press coverage and protests at the courthouse in this momentous case that could impact over 60 million women of child-bearing age in the US. The judge’s attempt to keep proceedings quiet backfired with women’s rights groups descending on Amarillo. One dressed as a kangaroo with a gavel, implying the hearing was a “kangaroo court”.
Kacsmaryk is a former Christian activist appointed to the federal bench by former Pres. Donald Trump. His court has become a venue of choice for lawsuits from numerous conservative groups. The Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine incorporated in Amarillo just three months before filing suit, which many consider a case of “court shopping”.
Kacsmaryk did not issue a ruling today after four hours of arguments. The groups bringing the suit also asked Kacsmaryk for a preliminary order halting sales of the drug while their lawsuit proceeds. Kacsmaryk ended by saying he would “issue an order and opinion as soon as possible,” possibly suggesting he’s already made up his mind about the preliminary order. In anticipation of mifepristone becoming unavailable, healthcare providers are busy lining up viable alternatives.
The next stop for the losers in Kacsmaryk’s court would be the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. It’s possible the case could wind up before the Supreme Court. Even if the FDA ultimately prevails, an order from Kacsmaryk halting sales of mifepristone could complicate the lives of millions of women for months (not to mention people who use mifepristone to manage other medical conditions).
Ohio sues Norfolk Southern over toxic derailment
The state of Ohio has filed a civil suit against the rail company Norfolk Southern over the derailment in East Palestine last month that was responsible for releasing more than a million gallons of toxic chemicals. The state is hoping to recoup the cost of the state’s costs from the disaster. The suit wants to hold the rail company financially responsible for damage to the state’s natural resources, the cost of state emergency response and economic harm to residents.
The suit refers to the East Palestine disaster as just one of a “long string” of derailments and hazardous material incidents for which Norfolk Southern is responsible. Norfolk Southern has been responsible for at least 20 derailments since 2015 involving the release of toxic chemicals, according to the filing. The state accuses Norfolk Southern of “recklessly endangering” residents and the environment, alleging multiple violations of state and federal laws regarding hazardous waste, water pollution, air pollution and common law negligence.
Communities in western Pennsylvania were also affected by the disaster which took place less than a mile the other side of their border with Ohio. Last month, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro issued a criminal referral to his state attorney general regarding the disaster. The attorney general’s office is still investigating whether there was any criminal conduct on the part of Norfolk Southern, but no charges have been filed.
Russian warplane forces down US surveillance drone over Black Sea
Yesterday, an American MQ-9 Reaper drone crashed into the Black Sea near the Crimean Peninsula, a Ukrainian territory Russia has occupied since 2014. US officials say that the crash was the result of an encounter with two Russian fighter jets. The drone became “unflyable” when one of the jets clipped its propeller. Prior to this, the jets had been dumping fuel over the drone to try to force it down. The Kremlin denies this version of events.
The US says the drone was in international airspace when the Russian jets attacked it, but Russia insists the the drone violated their (or Ukraine’s) air space. Russia claims that the presence of the drone is further evidence of direct involvement in the Ukraine war by the US military.
Both Russia and the US have announced that they’ll attempt to recover the drone. There’s a worrisome possibility of confrontation as the two sides try to get to the drone first. Joint Chiefs chair Gen. Mark Milley says he’s not sure if the drone is recoverable, claiming it sank under 4000-5000 feet of water. Milley also stressed the US has taken “mitigating measures” that would thwart Russia’s attempts to recover useful intelligence from the drone should they recover it. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed he has communicated with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu regarding the incident.