Citing death threats and harassing phone calls, the federal judge leading a pivotal case that could decide the future of the abortion pill in the US urged attorneys not to release the date of a key hearing, telling them: “Less publicity is better. “
Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the US Northern District of Texas held a conference call with attorneys in the case Friday, scheduling hearings for Wednesday morning. But Kacsmaryk asked lawyers not to publicize the hearing, citing security concerns.
“And because of limited security resources and manpower, I will request that the parties avoid further publicizing the date of the hearing,” Kacsmaryk told attorneys, according to a court transcript of the conference call.
“This is not a gag order, just a request of courtesy in light of the death threats and harassing phone calls and voicemails this department has received,” the judge said.
“We want a fluid hearing where all parties are heard. I think less publicity for this hearing is better,” Kacsmaryk said, adding he didn’t want an “unnecessary circus-like atmosphere.”
Kacsmaryk joined the court in 2019 after being appointed by former President Donald Trump. His appointment was rejected by Senate Democrats and Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who supports abortion rights. His nomination was also opposed by abortion and LGBTQ rights groups such as Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign.
Participants in Friday’s conference call included Justice Department attorneys, abortion pill maker Danco Laboratories and an anti-abortion group called Alliance Defending Freedom.
A Justice Department attorney, Julie Straus Harris, asked the judge if the date of the hearing would be published on the court record. Kacsmaryk responded that he would release it on Tuesday, but it “may even be after hours,” just ahead of Wednesday morning’s hearing.
The judge has scheduled hearings in the case for 9 am CT at the US Courthouse in Amarillo, Texas. The hearing will be public. The Washington Post initially reported that Kacsmaryk wanted to delay publicly announcing the hearing, citing people familiar with the matter.
Although Kacsmaryk tried to delay the release of the trial date until late Tuesday, media outlets on Monday sent a letter to the court urging the judge to announce the date immediately. The court announced the date of the hearing on the file later that afternoon.
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Media included NBCUniversal News Group, which owns CNBC; Among others, the Washington Post, ProPublica, the Texas Press Association and Gannett. Peter Steffensen of Southern Methodist University’s First Amendment Clinic at the Dedman School of Law sent the letter on behalf of the media.
“The court’s attempt to delay notification and thereby the ability of the public, including the press, to attend Wednesday’s hearing is unconstitutional and undermines the important values served by public access to court proceedings and court records,” Steffensen wrote .
A group of doctors opposed to abortion, called the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, urged Kacsmaryk in November to order the Food and Drug Administration to withdraw its approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. The FDA approved mifepristone in 2000.
The abortion pill, following the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade overturned last June has become a focal point in the litigation over access to abortion. Mifepristone, used in combination with another drug called misoprostol, is the most common method of terminating a pregnancy in the United States, accounting for about half of all abortions.
The Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine is represented by attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom, which worked with Mississippi lawmakers to draft the law at the center of the women’s health organization Dobbs v. Jackson. This case ultimately led to the Supreme Court overturning abortion rights under the US Constitution.
Attorneys for the Biden administration called the case challenging the FDA approval of mifepristone “unprecedented” in a January court filing.
Government lawyers warned that rescinding mifepristone’s FDA approval would effectively take the pill off the market, dramatically damaging the public interest. They said the health of women who rely on mifepristone as a safe and effective drug would suffer. The FDA’s power to approve drugs based on its scientific evidence would also be weakened, the lawyers argued.
“If long-standing FDA drug approvals were so easily waived decades after they were granted, pharmaceutical companies could not confidently rely on FDA approval decisions to develop the pharmaceutical drug infrastructure Americans depend on to treat a variety of health conditions,” he said the attorneys for the Biden administration wrote.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.
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