Republican Lawmakers Want to Ban Mifepristone. Most People Hate That Idea

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that threatens to limit access to mifepristone — a critical component of the abortion pill protocol — nationwide. A decision in the case is not expected until June, but close observers of the Supreme Court seem to think the case will be dismissed over a lack of standing. 

The fact that this case made it all the way to the high court, though, is a testament to the reality that ending access to the abortion pill — the most common method of abortion, which accounted for 63 percent of terminations last year — is no longer an idea that only exists in the fever dreams of the far-right fringe. It’s a goal of the mainstream Republican Party.

Last week, the Republican Study Committee — a caucus that includes 80 percent of the Republican conference in the U.S. House of Representatives — embraced a budget proposal that endorses banning all medication abortions nationwide. That idea is included in what is supposed to be a budget proposal, one that the conference presents as a “sober pathway to balance the budget, reduce prices, preserve the programs Americans have paid into, and create economic growth and opportunity.”

Ending access to the abortion pill is an idea House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has supported for a long time. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Johnson warned that the shift to telemedicine threatened to make it easier to obtain the medication.

“Of the things we’re on the lookout for is the use of chemical abortions because there’s this move towards telemedicine and off-site medical treatment and that kind of thing. ‘We need to be able to treat people remotely, and so we’ll just mail them a chemical that will induce the abortion.’ You know: a pill or a syringe or whatever it is,” Johnson said in an interview with the anti-abortion organization Students for Life in May 2020. “We have to be very vigilant about that.”

Americans overwhelmingly support maintaining access to the abortion pill — even Republicans. According to a Fox News poll released Wednesday, more than two-thirds of all voters favor keeping mifepristone legal, including almost 9 out 10 Democrats, 7 in 10 independents, and 48 percent of Republicans. Overall, just 28 percent of all voters believe that the pill should be outlawed. Those numbers mirror the results of a new Axios poll, which found 72 percent of Americans support allowing women to obtain abortion pills from a doctor or clinic.

Despite voters’ views, Republicans have recently made a habit of trying to shoehorn radical restrictions on abortion into government funding bills. Almost a dozen riders were added to budget bills last year, the Associated Press reported, including a provision included in a House appropriations bill that would have reversed a Food and Drug Administration decision clearing the way for mifepristone to be dispensed in certified pharmacies.

A number of vulnerable House Republicans voted for that restriction, including Reps. Ken Calvert, Mike Garcia, and David Valadao of California, as well as Juan Ciscomani (Ariz.) and Ryan Zinke (Mont.).

Some, like Ciscomani, who represents a swing district in Arizona, are already being forced to defend their votes. Ciscomani stammered when questioned about his support for the provision in an interview with a local TV station about his vote. “That was a committee vote on a larger bill,” he said. “I ended up voting against the bill on the floor.”

Ciscomani did not vote for the bill on the floor, but several of his Republican colleagues, also from swing districts, did support it, including Reps. John Duarte, Kevin Kiley, and Michelle Steel of California; David Schweikert of (Ariz.); María Salazar (Fla.); John James (Mich.); Scott Perry (Penn.); Brandon Williams (N.Y.); Bryan Steil (Wis.).

The inclusion of the rider to ban mifepristone ultimately doomed the agriculture bill on the floor — a likelihood GOP leadership was aware of, according to Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who voted against it. “Leadership knew that this was going to be a problem, and yet here we are,” Mace told Axios at the time, adding the measure “will be the reason why the bill doesn’t pass.”

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