With access to abortion pill threatened, state buys 30K doses

Gov. Inslee says it gives Washington a three-year supply. The purchase comes as a federal judge may order the FDA to stop its sale.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced April 4 the state has stockpiled a three-year supply of the abortion pill mifepristone, assuring access to the most common method of terminating pregnancy in Washington amid myriad legal and political efforts to end distribution of the medication nationwide.

At Inslee’s direction, the state Department of Corrections bought 30,000 doses for $1.275 million last month using its existing pharmacy license. GenBioPro, maker of the generic version of mifepristone, delivered the full shipment March 31.

Inslee called the purchase a “very important insurance policy” against a “national conspiracy” of legislators, courts and anti-abortion activists trying to take away a woman’s right in Washington to access abortion services.

“Women in Washington are under attack from a multi-head, a hydra headed beast that’s coming after this right. First they want to stop people from being able to go to another state to do a legal procedure,” he said, citing pending legislation in Idaho. “When they stop people from traveling across state lines, they want to stop access to a safe pharmaceutical that women have been using for two decades.”

Inslee was joined by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who is leading a multi-state federal lawsuit to protect and expand access to the medication, and by lawmakers who introduced legislation Tuesday authorizing the state agency to distribute or sell the medication to licensed health providers across the state. With 19 days left in the session, the bill will be fast-tracked through the process.

Ferguson sued the federal Food & Drug Administration in February, accusing it of singling out the medication for excessively burdensome regulations that expose providers and patients to unnecessary privacy and safety risks. The suit, joined by 17 other states, contends those restrictions are unlawful and wants to prevent the federal agency from taking steps to reduce the availability of mifepristone.

Meanwhile, in Texas, a federal judge is considering whether to order the FDA to rescind its approval of mifepristone which occurred more than two decades ago. That, Inslee contends, would effectively end the ability of providers or pharmacists nationwide to purchase the medication.

With the recently acquired stockpile, there will be ample supplies of medication available regardless of the outcome, he said.

“Washington will not sit by idly and risk the devastating consequences of inaction,” Inslee said. “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.”

Mifepristone, also known as medication abortion pills, RU-486, or the abortion pill, was approved by the FDA more than 20 years ago.

In Washington, there are about 800 medical abortions each month, according to the state Department of Health. In 2021, 9,646 of 16,349 abortions among Washington residents, or 59 percent, were medication abortions.

One year earlier, the state tallied 16,050 abortions of which 1,774 were in Snohomish County. Data posted online does not show how many involved the abortion pill.

With the U.S. Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade last year and subsequent passage of anti-abortion laws in several states, health officials and reproductive care providers anticipate greater demand for services, including access to the pill, in Washington where a voter-approved initiative put abortion rights into law.

“I think it’s a creative response to a very disturbing potential of this mifepristone not becoming available any more,” Rep. Shelley Kloba, D-Kenmore. “I appreciate our state trying to figure out the situation.”

Rep. Mary Fosse, D-Everett, said “it’s really unfortunate” the state needs to go in the direction of stockpiling medication.

“We’re not going to stop fighting in every way that we can,” she said, adding constituents she hears from “are tired and aggravated with this constant campaign against women.”

This move comes as four bills aimed at expanding and strengthening protections for those seeking and providing abortions are already on course to reach the governor’s desk this session.

One of those is Senate Bill 5242, which would limit co-pays for abortions. State law requires health insurance companies cover abortion if they cover maternity care. This bill would bar a health carrier from imposing cost sharing for the procedure. It would apply to health plans issued or renewed on or after Jan. 1, 2024, including health plans offered to public employees.

House Bill 1340 makes clear health providers cannot be disciplined or have their license denied for “unprofessional conduct” for providing reproductive health services or gender affirming care as allowed in state law

House Bill 1469 aims to counteract attempts by other states to impede or punish those who come to Washington in pursuit of reproductive health care services. It’s intended to limit cooperation with other states’ investigations or warrants concerning provision of abortion and gender-affirming care services.

As written, the state Attorney General’s Office would keep a list of laws of other states that make it a crime to provide or receive protected health care services and make the list available to the Washington State Patrol.

And House Bill 1155 could get a vote soon as well. It deals with data privacy and contains specific provision protecting private information of patients seeking reproductive services.

Not every bill Democrats proposed this session made it to the finish line.

Inslee and majority Democrats failed to advance their boldest initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment, to chisel abortion rights protections into the state constitution.

Nor could they muster votes to pass a bill barring hospital mergers or acquisition that “would detrimentally affect the continued existence of accessible, affordable health care in Washington State for at least ten years after the transaction occurs.”

Senate Bill 5241 sought to have the Attorney General’s Office monitor any transaction involving a hospital for at least 10 years to ensure compliance with all requirements. If needed, the attorney general could impose conditions or modifications on the deal.