The White House plans to support pharmacies and drugstores in the abortion pill battle

WASHINGTON, April 9 (Reuters) – The White House intends to resume discussions with abortion pill manufacturers and U.S. pharmacy chains on ways to counter efforts to ban mifepristone, two sources familiar with the matter said, as the United States resumes its decision to ban mifepristone. Texas court rules to suspend drug approval.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kasmarek in Amarillo, Texas, on Friday halted approval of mifepristone, which would make sales of the pill illegal in the United States, while a legal challenge continues. A conflicting ruling in Washington state on Friday blocks changes to grain sales in 17 states.

In January, the Food and Drug Administration made a regulatory change that allowed retail pharmacies to offer abortion pills in the country for the first time, but more than a dozen states have passed laws limiting such sales.

There are no retail pharmacies currently approved to dispense mifepristone and many are going through the accreditation process.

“We are discussing ways to provide them with legal support,” one source said of manufacturers and retail pharmacies.

The sources said that options being discussed include asking the US Department of Justice to support any legal challenges brought against manufacturers and pharmacies, and providing legal advice on how to continue distributing the pills. The Justice Department is separately seeking an emergency stay of the Texas order.

A senior administration official said the White House does not direct the Justice Department’s litigation strategy. The official also said that the Justice Department does not provide legal advice to private entities. There is a separate voluntary process that allows private attorneys and law firms to do legal work on various cases overseen by the agency.

It was not immediately clear which companies would participate in these discussions. The White House declined to comment.

Major manufacturers of abortion pills in the United States include GenBioPro Inc and Danco Laboratories. Among the pharmacy chains distributing such pills are Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc (WBA.O), CVS Health Corp (CVS.N) and Rite Aid Corp (RAD.N).

Walgreens said in March that it would no longer distribute abortion pills in the 20 states where it would risk violating the law.

On Sunday, Walgreens declined to comment. The other companies did not respond to a request for comment on any discussions with the White House.

The administration official said the White House “has previously been in contact with both pharmacies and manufacturers but we have not had any discussions about this matter since Friday when the decision was issued.”

The official said any potential future talks would not include decisions that affect “how the FDA works or operates.”

The White House Gender Policy and Governmental Affairs Council and the Office of the Vice President have been holding strategy calls for nearly two months on how to make medical abortion available following the Texas judge’s ruling, anticipating Friday’s outcome.

Discussions between the Biden administration, pill manufacturers and pharmacies over the issue have been ongoing for months, but Friday’s decision brings new urgency, the sources said.

Relief of Washington State

A flurry of strategic calls to the White House on Friday and Saturday also focused on the “immediate and short-term” relief offered by the conflicting order from Washington state, three sources said.

Minutes after Texas Judge Kaczmarek’s order, US District Judge Thomas Rice in Spokane, Washington, an Obama appointee, ordered the FDA not to make any changes to access to mifepristone in some Democratic-led states.

The administration believes Washington’s ruling gives it more time to legally respond to Texas’ final decision. That “could expedite the Texas review, encourage an immediate halt to it and put a big question mark over it,” one source said.

Politically, that makes it easier for the White House to explain to the public that the FDA’s approval of the drug was accurate, and to mobilize activists and supporters to turn the issue into one that resonates with voters ahead of the 2024 presidential election, the sources said.

“There’s a lot of legal analysis that needs to be done…on how these two things interact,” the senior administration official said.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday that the administration would oppose the Texas ruling.

“We will fight this decision,” Biden said on Twitter. The Attorney General announced that @TheJusticeDept will file an appeal and seek an immediate stay of the decision.

The legal battle will likely drag through multiple levels of appellate courts over months or years before it is resolved.

The administration is seeking an emergency stay of Kaczmarek’s order from the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The path forward discussed during the White House strategy calls touched on how the Justice Department could wait for a decision from the Fifth Circuit, which has a conservative reputation, the sources said.

They said that if the ruling was not stayed, the ministry would seek an expedited review by the Supreme Court.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Preparing by Muhammad for the Arabic Bulletin) Editing by Heather Timmons, Margarita Choy and Diane Craft

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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