Gov. Wes Moore announced Friday that the state has begun the process of stockpiling the drug mifepristone as the federal courts wrestle over the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s long-standing approval of the medicine, one of the pills prescribed for medication abortions.
“This purchase is another example of our administration’s commitment to ensure Maryland remains a safe haven for abortion access and quality reproductive health care,” Moore said Friday in a statement to The Baltimore Sun.
The combination of mifepristone (meh FE’ pri-stone) and misoprostol (me ZOH prost’ ol) is used in 98% of medication abortions in the U.S. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research nonprofit that aims to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights, medication abortions now account for more than half of U.S. abortions.
The state began working Sunday with the University of Maryland Medical System to procure the drug through a memorandum of understanding with the health system and using existing Maryland Department of Health funds.
Maryland is buying enough mifepristone to last 2 1/2 years at the rate it’s currently prescribed in the state.
“We all feel really good about what we did,” Maryland Health Secretary Laura Herrera Scott said in an exclusive interview Friday with The Sun.
She said a “very dedicated team” was working to ensure patients in Maryland retain access to mifepristone.
The administration is developing a system to ensure equitable access, said Carter Elliott, a spokesman for the governor. The state did not immediately provide information Friday about the amount it planned to pay for the stockpile.
Maryland joins California, Massachusetts and New York in stockpiling abortion pills. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has said he’s considering doing so, too.
Last week, a federal judge in Texas, appointed by former Republican President Donald Trump, issued a ruling to revoke the FDA approval of mifepristone. A federal appeals court ruled that mifepristone sales could continue, but under rules the FDA adopted in 2000, before a series of changes that relaxed access.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday to temporarily preserve the current FDA approval.
However, that pause may not be in place for long, Herrara Scott said. That’s because the Supreme Court has suggested it will decide the issue by Wednesday.
In a statement, Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown said he is “pleased” the country’s highest court ruled to allow mifepristone to be accessible, but that it “is just an opening skirmish in what will be a long battle.”
“This frontal assault on reproductive freedom threatens health and safety, and it will inflict disproportionate harms on underrepresented and overburdened communities here and across this country,” Brown said. “We will be vigilant in beating it back at every turn.”
In a statement after the Texas judge’s ruling came down, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said it “overturns the FDA’s expert judgment, rendered over two decades ago, that mifepristone is safe and effective. The department will continue to defend the FDA’s decision.”
However, the picture is different for the moment in Maryland, where Brown previously joined 17 other attorneys general in a federal lawsuit brought by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenbaum against the FDA to challenge restrictions on prescribing mifepristone.
A federal judge ruled last week in Washington state that the federal government can’t restrict the medication in states that are part of that case.
Karen Nelson, the executive director of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, told The Sun in an interview earlier this year that about 60% of abortions performed at her organization’s clinics statewide involve the pill.
Medication abortions can be performed using only misoprostol. But medical professionals say patients may need to take multiple doses for it to work and side effects can last longer than with the two-pill regimen with mifepristone.
As Moore indicated, Maryland has become a “safe haven” for people from states with more restrictive abortion policies who come here to end their pregnancies.
Since the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned decades of precedent set by Roe v. Wade, at least a dozen states have implemented near-total abortion bans, with several creating limits after a certain point in pregnancy.
During the 2022 and 2023 legislative sessions, Maryland’s Democrat-controlled legislature worked to expand access to abortion care and sought to ensure that providers and anyone who enters the state to receive treatment is protected from criminal investigations in other states.
Last year, the legislature passed the Abortion Care Access Act, which increased the scope of and required the state to allocate annual funding for additional medical practitioners to provide abortion care.
Maryland Policy & Politics
The funding was set to be released starting with the 2023-2024 fiscal year. However, then-Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, held back the funding last year in spite of Democratic pleas for its early release following the decision overturning Roe. Moore released the funds within days of taking office in January.
Herrera Scott said Friday that requests for proposals for training programs went out last month and proposals still are being accepted.
During the 2023 session, Maryland lawmakers passed bills to prohibit patient reproductive health care records from crossing state lines via digital health information exchanges without patient consent and to bar Maryland from aiding states with more restrictive laws in criminally investigations of abortion providers and their out-of-state patients.
Also, Marylanders will have the opportunity in 2024 to vote on whether to enshrine access to reproductive health care, including abortion, contraception, prenatal care and fertility treatment, in the state constitution.
“The General Assembly played a big part in this, as well,” Herrera Scott said of broader efforts to maintain access to such medical care.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.