Right-Wing Group Says FDA Should Revoke Abortion Pill Approval Since Drug Might Harm Endangered Animals

Students for Life is trying to argue a hypothetical risk to animals over the very real health risks pregnancy poses to women.

Right-Wing Group Says FDA Should Revoke Abortion Pill Approval Since Drug Might Harm Endangered Animals
An endangered whooping crane is confused about the amicus brief filed by Students for Life. Photo: Shutterstock

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Supreme Court is set to hear a high-stakes case on the abortion drug mifepristone in March. Ahead of arguments, an activist group claims the court should force the Food and Drug Administration to revoke the drug’s 24-year-old approval because—I shit you not—the FDA didn’t study the impact it could have on animals on the endangered species list. (Other filings have been trickling in before arguments, which are on March 26. A decision is expected in late June.)

The anti-abortion group Students for Life of America submitted a legal filing known as an amicus brief on Tuesday saying that it not only supports the efforts of right-wing Christian legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom to restrict access to the mifepristone, but it also proffered a new crackpot legal theory that traces of mifepristone in wastewater could be harming animals. They claim the FDA violated the Endangered Species Act by not considering this impact before it approved the drug back in 2000, and thereby, the agency should have to revoke approval until it conducts an environmental study and consults with two wildlife agencies. Students for Life is trying to put a hypothetical risk to animals over the very real health risks pregnancy poses to women.

This is a ridiculous attempt to get the Supreme Court to yank the pill from the market, which is what district court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk wanted to do in April 2023 by embracing anti-abortion nonsense. But even the ultraconservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said in August that it was too late to challenge the original 2000 approval of the abortion pill under the statute of limitations on federal actions—that means the Supreme Court is only hearing challenges to moves the FDA made in 2016 and 2021 that expanded access to abortion pills. (Those changes were extending the period during pregnancy during which they can be used from seven weeks to 10, and allowing prescriptions via telehealth.) But Students for Life is now throwing a hail mary by concern-trolling about endangered species.

Incredibly, the group admits they have no idea if trace amounts of mifepristone in waterways harm any endangered animals, but they say that’s the fault of the FDA for not looking into it. Here’s a snippet from the Students for Life brief:

The current list of endangered species recognized by the Services contains nearly 1,500 different species and can be found on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s website. Multiple endangered species may be affected by the approval of Mifepristone, but the extent is unknown due to the FDA’s failure to consult as required by Section 7 of the [Endangered Species Act].

The brief includes photos of six animal species—the red wolf, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, leopard darter fish, California condor, whooping crane (pictured above), and sockeye salmon—that may or may not be harmed by mifepristone in wastewater. Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life, baselessly claimed in a release that abortion pills harm women and girls, but that “on behalf of the Youth Vote, a generation motivated to protect the environment, we must rethink the lax and fast-tracked approval of deadly Chemical Abortion Pills.” (Good luck appealing to the youth vote when you oppose IVF like Hawkins’ group does.)

This isn’t even the first time wild animals have been invoked during the litigation of this case. Judge James Ho of the 5th Circuit wrote a separate opinion in August saying that the plaintiffs, a group of anti-abortion doctors, have standing to sue the FDA because they like looking at babies, and the agency’s approval of the abortion pill deprives them of that right. He cited “aesthetic injury” precedent from past cases involving federal decisions that threatened wildlife and plants.

The unspoken subtext here is that groups like Students for Life view abortion pills as an existential threat to their efforts to ban abortion nationwide. Pills are small and discrete and can be easily mailed to states with bans—though not without legal risk. Activists like SFLA want every abortion seeker to have to pay huge sums to trek to a shrinking number of clinics that are booking up weeks in advance, where they will likely face protestors. They want to make abortion so inaccessible, even in protective states, that people just give up. That is, until they succeed in banning abortion nationwide, whether by pill or procedure.

Students for Life is on the advisory board of Project 2025, the conservative group pre-writing executive orders and other plans for if Donald Trump becomes president again. The coalition is calling for Trump to ban abortion by simply enforcing a 19th-century law called the Comstock Act that banned the mailing of drugs and devices used for abortion. It seems no shady legal tactic is beneath them in their quest to rob people of autonomy.

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