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Washington stocks up on abortion drug as federal ruling on access looms

Washington Governor Jay Inslee announces the state is stockpiling the abortion medication Mifepristone in case a pending Texas court ruling limits its availability
Jeanie Lindsay
Washington Governor Jay Inslee announces the state is stockpiling the abortion medication Mifepristone in case a pending Texas court ruling limits its availability

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday the state has purchased 30,000 doses of the abortion drug mifepristone in preparation for a federal court decision that could limit access to the medication.

The move comes as a federal judge in Texas is poised to issue a ruling on a case that could limit the availability mifepristone nationwide.

"We will not allow a judge in Texas to deny the right of Washington women to this safe drug," Inslee said at a press conference. "We may not need it, but this is an insurance policy that is a very important insurance policy."

The state paid $1,275,000 for the 30,000 doses, which were delivered March 31. Inslee says the University of Washington will stockpile an additional 10,000 doses, providing the state with a roughly four- year supply of the medication if demand for the drug remains at current levels.

Lawmakers are also introducing a bill Tuesday to permit the state Department of Corrections to distribute the medication to health care providers in the state. The newly announced legislation, Senate Bill 5768, is being sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines) and Rep. Jessica Bateman (D-Olympia), and will receive a public hearing in the coming days.

Keiser says the Department of Corrections has the infrastructure to store and distribute the medication since it is licensed as a pharmacy, but the bill expanding its authority to sell or deliver the medication more broadly will only apply to abortion drugs.

Mifepristone has been available in the United States for more than two decades. It is typically used in conjunction with the drug misoprostol to end early pregnancy.

According to the state, medication abortions account for about 60% of abortions in Washington. The Department of Health reports that about 800 medical abortions occur in the state each month.

As the country awaits a ruling in the Texas case, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is co-leadinga multi-state lawsuitwith Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to challenge current FDA regulations for accessing mifepristone.

"It is our view that those restrictions are unlawful and unnecessary," Ferguson said.

Ferguson's office has filed a motion to halt the enforcement of those rules as the case makes its way through court.

Washington's efforts to maintain access to abortion continues on multiple other fronts. Inslee sent a letter to Republican Idaho Gov. Brad Little urging a veto oflegislation that would further limit abortion in the state.

The Washington Legislature is also working on several other abortion protection measures, including a bill to "shield" people seeking or providing abortions in Washington from out-of-state lawsuits and another to reduce the cost of abortion care services.

Jeanie Lindsay is a radio reporter based in Olympia who covers the Washington state government beat for the Northwest News Network, the Pacific Northwest's regional collaboration of NPR stations.