The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

Another milestone in the national battle over abortion occurs tomorrow, with the expiration of a U.S. Supreme Court injunction that bars restrictions on access to a drug used in medication abortions from going into effect.

It isn’t known when the high court will rule on the issue, but even temporarily barring the use of the drug, mifepristone, while the case is decided has become a legal and political hot potato.

The U.S. Justice Department, acting on behalf of Food and Drug Administration, opposes any hiatus, saying mifepristone has been “safely used by millions of Americans over more than two decades” and has served as “an alternative to surgical abortion for women who choose to lawfully terminate their early pregnancies.”

With access to abortion now looming as a top issue in next year’s presidential election, it wasn’t surprising, then, that members of the U.S. Congress entered the fray.

Last week, 253 Democrats — including Georgia Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock — signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief condemning a lower court ruling by Texas Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk earlier this month that voided the FDA’s approval of mifepristone in 2000.

As Democrats moved to ensure that access to mifepristone is fully restored, 69 Republicans in Congress, including 58 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, signed onto another friend-of-the-court brief supporting Kacsmaryk’s ruling.

Missing from the list of signatories on that brief was Georgia First District Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter.

Carter’s absence is noteworthy. Coastal Georgia’s congressman has been an outspoken opponent of abortion, with the national anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List awarding him an A+ last year for his efforts to protect unborn children and their mothers.

And after the Supreme Court last June overturned Roe v. Wade, reversing nearly five decades of precedent that had established a national right to abortion access, Carter declared: “Life wins!”

Carter’s office didn’t return a phone call requesting comment on the congressman’s apparent reluctance to sign on to the Republican-led brief.

Partisan politics could be a factor. A recent public opinion survey suggests that banning medication abortions could hurt GOP chances in next year’s elections.

According to recent polling by the Public Religion Research Institute, 72% of Americans who oppose “laws that make it illegal to use or receive through the mail FDA-approved drugs for a medical abortion” and 63% oppose “laws that ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around the sixth week of pregnancy.”

Besides political and electoral considerations, another consideration at play may be that Carter, a pharmacist, fears that judicial intervention in the FDA’s approval of drugs sets a bad precedent that will weaken drug safety. 

Still another consideration may stem from Carter’s longtime ties to the pharmaceutical industry as a lawmaker in Atlanta and Washington, after earning millions operating a chain of pharmacies in the Savannah-area and serving local health-care institutions.

More than 400 executives from Pfizer, Biogen and other pharmaceutical companies last week signed an open letter condemning Kacsmaryk’s ruling, saying it “ignores decades of scientific and legal precedent.”

That’s a view that Carter no doubt takes seriously. He describes himself as a “health care professional” on his congressional website and is widely viewed on Capitol Hill as a champion of the pharmaceutical industry. His three fundraising committees — Buddy Carter for Congress, Buddy Pac, Team Buddy — have also received hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from that industry.

The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

Craig Nelson is a former international correspondent for The Associated Press, the Sydney (Australia) Morning-Herald, Cox Newspapers and The Wall Street Journal. He also served as foreign editor for The...