Durbin: Democrats Won’t Rest Until We Restore Access To Women’s Reproductive Health Care Nationwide

Durbin slams federal judge in Texas who tried to block the use of the medication abortion pill mifepristone

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke on the Senate floor on the state of reproductive rights in America and steps he’s taking to shine a light on the serious threats to abortion rights nationwide, including his upcoming Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the issue.  The remarks come after a federal judge in Texas, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, attempted to block the use of the medication abortion pill mifepristone—which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved more than 20 years ago as safe and effective.

“This week, the fate of women’s health care rests with the Supreme Court of the United States.  In the coming days, the Justices are expected to decide whether one activist judge in Texas can single-handedly disregard decades of medical professional consensus, whether he can create chaos for doctors and women seeking abortions, and cut-off access to reproductive health care nationwide… It has been less than one year since the Court’s right-wing majority issued its decision overruling Roe v. Wade.  And here we are faced with the very real possibility that mifepristone—a pill the Food and Drug Administration approved more than 20 years ago—could be banned, or severely restricted, all across the nation…  Even in states where abortion remains legal,” said Durbin. 

Although Justice Alito claimed in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization majority opinion that overruling Roe settles the abortion debate by returning the issue to the states, the past nine months demonstrate that the opposite is true.  The abortion landscape is constantly changing and unsettled, resulting in women across the country—whether or not they live in states where abortion is restricted or banned—facing negative and sometimes life-threatening outcomes. 

“The Dobbs ruling didn’t resolve anything.  It merely paved the way for activist judges to impose their radical agenda on everyone else—even in states which have voted to protect the right to abortion,” Durbin continued. “So this attempt to ban this medication [mifepristone] isn’t grounded in science, and it certainly isn’t grounded in genuine concern for the safety of women.  You see, Judge Kacsmaryk is a longstanding, outspoken critic of abortion rights.  Just this weekend, the Washington Post revealed that he failed to disclose to the Senate Judiciary Committee an article he co-wrote criticizing abortion rights when he was nominated to the federal bench.” 

“In this case, the plaintiffs—a group of right-wing activists—filed a lawsuit challenging the FDA’s approval of mifepristone in the Amarillo Division of the Northern District of Texas.  Under the district court’s rules, all cases filed in the Amarillo Division are assigned to one judge: Judge Kacsmaryk.  So these right-wing activists knew that, if they filed an anti-abortion lawsuit in Amarillo, their case would be decided by a friendly judge who shares their anti-abortion views, and his ruling could a have an impact not just in Amarillo and Texas but the entire United States of America.  And the plaintiffs got exactly what they wanted.  The scheme worked.  He delivered the biggest blow to reproductive rights since last year’s Dobbs decision,” Durbin said.

Mifepristone is used in more than half of all abortions in the country.  It is extremely safe, and extremely effective.  In fact, studies show that it is safer than Tylenol, and presents fewer risks than routine medical procedures like colonoscopies.  And in the past 20 years, millions of American women have used mifepristone to terminate an early pregnancy—or help manage a miscarriage—with minimal complications. 

During his speech, Durbin highlighted the continued assaults on reproductive health care following theDobbs decision.  By erasing the constitutional right to abortion, the right-wing majority opened the floodgates for new laws and new rulings restricting and even criminalizing abortion.  Doctors and health care providers across the country are unsure if they can legally provide essential care. 

“Just look at how fast these attacks on reproductive health care have escalated.  First, the Supreme Court overturned decades of legal precedent to revoke a constitutional right for the first time ever.  Now, less than a year later, one judge in Texas has decided to escalate the situation.  He wants to take drug approval decisions out of the hands of our medical and scientific experts at the FDA, and violate decades of congressional and agency precedent.  So naturally, the American people are wondering: what’s next?  How far will the far-right go in destabilizing our lives and the rule of law?   Is birth control next?  Vaccines?  Medicine for HIV/AIDS?  It’s a genuine question.  Just ask health care providers in Illinois who are wondering if they may face criminal charges for providing vital—and potentially life-saving—care,” Durbin said.

Durbin highlighted the story of a health care provider in Illinois, Andrea Gallegos, who operates an abortion clinic in Carbondale.  Andrea told Durbin that the recent rulings on mifepristone have created, “chaos.” Every day, she receives calls from terrified patients who are wondering if they will even be able to receive care. The question she hears the most is: “will someone come after me?”  She continued to tell Durbin: “The Dobbs decision did not resolve any controversy [but] it has forced pregnant [women] to flee their home[s] for health care…  It has forced citizens of this country to become medical refugees [in their own] states…  [And it has] forced health care providers to put their patients in dangerous, potentially life-threatening situations.”

“If Dobbs returned the question of abortion back to the states and their elected leaders, what about my state and our elected leaders?  Our voters spoke, and our leaders took action to reflect their will to strengthen access to abortion.  So why is it that a judge in Texas has the last word when it comes to [medication] abortion in my state?” Durbin said. 

“The war on women’s health care has gone too far.  That’s why this Senate needs to stop the chaos and protect a women’s right to choose once and for all by passing the Women’s Health Protection Act… We’ve learned what happens when you revoke a constitutional right from the American people.  We can never let that happen again.  We need to respect the rights of women to make their own health care decisions… And Democrats won’t rest until we restore access to these constitutional rights nationwide,” Durbin concluded. 

As Durbin mentioned during his speech, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a full committee hearing in this work period to examine the devastating fallout since the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade in June 2022.  This hearing follows the full committee hearing Durbin held in July 2022 entitled, “A Post-Roe America: The Legal Consequences of the Dobbs Decision.”

Durbin joined more than 250 members of Congress in submitting an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, in support of the Biden Administration’s appeal of the mifepristone case.  The amicus brief was submitted as Justice Samuel Alito issued a temporary order that maintains nationwide access to mifepristone while the Supreme Court reviews the Biden Administration’s emergency request appealing the lower court rulings that endangers Americans’ access to abortion drugs.  While access to the drug is temporarily protected, the amicus brief underscored the severe impact that restricting access would have on reproductive rights and patients’ wellbeing, as well as the credibility of FDA drug approvals. 

Video of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s floor speech is available here for TV Stations.