Gov. Inslee buys 3-year supply of abortion pills in case of ban

The Washington governor announced Tuesday that he plans to stockpile 30,000 courses to hedge against a possible federal ban.

A picture of Gov. Jay Inslee in his office at the Capitol in Olympia.

Gov. Jay Inslee is interviewed at the Washington State Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. (Amanda Snyder/Crosscut)

Washington state has purchased 30,000 doses of the abortion medication known as mifepristone, as state officials brace themselves for a Texas court ruling that could further limit abortion nationwide, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday.

The purchase amounts to a three-year supply, according to Inslee’s office, as Washington’s elected officials await a Texas judge’s ruling that could ban mifepristone. The drug is one of two that can be taken together for a medication abortion.

In a news conference, where he was joined by Attorney General Bob Ferguson and several Democratic state lawmakers, Inslee described the measure as a way to stop anti-abortion advocates from around the nation from taking away rights in Washington.

"We have to recognize that there are forces abroad in legislatures, in courts across the United States, to try to take this right away from the women of the state of Washington," Inslee said. "And that will not stand."

Washington acquired the doses for $1.27 million through the state Department of Corrections, which has a pharmacy license, according to Inslee. The shipment of mifepristone was delivered this past Friday.

The University of Washington has purchased 10,000 doses in addition to those purchased by the Department of Corrections, Inslee said. Officials estimate they have a four-year supply, based on current estimates.

Along with the supply of mifepristone, lawmakers are introducing a bill in the Legislature to authorize state officials to distribute the medication to providers and health care facilities. Once that bill becomes law, the medication should be able to be distributed at public and private clinics, Inslee said.

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, who is sponsoring Senate Bill 5768, pointed to Washington voters' approval of abortion at the ballot box as a signal that reproductive care should be available in Washington.

"How these federal judges get to the point where they can rule for the whole nation is beyond me," Keiser said at the news conference. "But we can take creative solutions to deal with this kind of judicial activism."

Even if mifepristone was barred from the market, Washington’s abortion providers would still have other options to administer abortions. That is because abortions can still be administered with just the other of the two medications, misoprostol, which isn’t regulated as tightly by the government.

Tuesday’s announcement comes as Washington becomes a hub for reproductive rights after the newly conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal abortion protections granted in the 1973 decision known as Roe v. Wade.

Since last year’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health reversing abortion protections, a slew of abortion bans or limitations have taken effect in states around the nation.

In response to the pending case in Texas, Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington against President Joe Biden's administration that challenges the current regulatory regime around mifepristone. Among other things, the lawsuit contends that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has continued with burdensome and unnecessary regulations.

In the news conference, Ferguson described his lawsuit as a way to expand access for mifepristone across the country. He described it as: "sort of opposite of what's going on in Texas."

"It's been my feeling since the Dobbs decision came out that anti-abortion activists will not be satisfied with that decision," Ferguson said at the news conference. "They will stop at nothing until they remove every last vestige of reproductive freedom for Americans across the country."

Abortion providers in Washington have seen an increase in out-of-state patients, including from Idaho and Texas. Democratic lawmakers in the current 105-day legislative session are working on other bills to make sure they can access reproductive health services.

"We know in Washington that health care decisions should be made by a patient and their provider, not a judge in Texas," said Rep. Jessica Bateman, D-Olympia, at the news conference.

Also on Tuesday, Inslee sent Idaho Gov. Brad Little a letter urging him to veto House Bill 242, a measure that has passed that state's Legislature. 

That legislation makes it a crime for adults to aid a minor accessing abortion services across state lines, if there's intent to shield the purpose of that aid from parents or legal guardians, according to news reports.

"We believe there is a constitutional right to travel for Americans across state lines," Inslee said in the news conference, adding: "We think it is a gross abuse of this right to travel."

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