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Daines, Gianforte sign letter seeking FDA ban on abortion pill
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Daines, Gianforte sign letter seeking FDA ban on abortion pill

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U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte of Montana are among the Republican signers to a pair of letters asking the Food and Drug Administration to ban a pill that ends early pregnancies.

The letters object, among other things, to a federal court decision suspending a requirement that the medication mifepristone (also known as Mifeprex or RU-486) be prescribed only during in-person appointments. They term the court’s action “rogue judicial activism” and an “opportunistic ploy to expand access to abortion.” The decision continues a policy allowing physicians to prescribe the drug during telehealth appointments and arrange for it to be mailed or delivered during the pandemic.

Twenty of the Senate's 53 Republican senators signed the letter — dated Tuesday, and first reported by the National Review — written by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. The companion letter signed by 72 of the 198 Republicans in the House of Representatives, was written by Sen. Jody Hice, R-Georgia. No Democrats signed the letters.

The court’s decision in the case filed by the ACLU on behalf of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other groups, came in July. The letters sent now, about two months before the November election, “fit with issues that key Republican constituencies care about,” said Jeremy Johnson, an associate professor of political science at Carroll College.

“I certainly think it reassures the base,” he said.

Daines is locked in a tight Senate race with Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock; Gianforte seeks to become governor, running against Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney. Both Republicans are outspoken supporters of pro-life measures, while throughout his two terms in office, Bullock has vetoed measures to limit abortion.

"The governor believes that health care decisions should be made by a woman in consultation with her health care provider — not political letters," Bullock campaign spokeswoman Olivia Bercow said Thursday. Cooney's campaign said that "Montana has a long tradition of letting women make their own health care decisions and as governor, Mike Cooney will veto any attempt to take our state away from that."

Gianforte spokesman Travis Hall wrote that "Greg believes every life is precious and should be protected. The health and safety of women and their babies are one of Greg's top priorities."

Daines founded the Senate Pro Life Caucus. “There is evidence that the abortion pill is a hazard to public health and has had adverse effects to women and their babies,” wrote Daines spokesperson Katie Schoettler.

The ACLU disputed that contention, detailed in the letter, in a tweet Thursday.

"Mifepristone (the generic name for Mifeprex) is an abortion medication that has been FDA approved for 20 years. It is safe. It is effective. And it is crucial health care for people across the country — especially during a pandemic.

In addition to outlining hazards of the medication — the letter cites 24 maternal deaths and 4,195 adverse reactions from the pill that has been available in the United States since 2000 — the letter states that “pregnancy is not a life-threatening illness.” World Health Organization statistics show 1,200 women die each year in the United States due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth, a higher ratio than in most developed countries.

The letter “seems to me to be more of a political move to back other action,” said Martha Stahl, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Montana. 

Even before the pandemic, Montana had a provision that allowed the drug to be prescribed via telehealth. It’s among 13 states participating in an FDA-approved project to evaluate the use of telehealth services for medication abortions.

“It’s really a proven strategy to expand access, especially for folks living in rural areas” like Montana, Stahl said.

A 2015 bill in the Montana Legislature, sponsored by Rep. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, that would have required in-person appointments to obtain a prescription for the medication was vetoed by Bullock.

Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Montana Family Foundation, said those efforts will be renewed during the 2021 legislative session. He said the foundation has spoken to women who have received the medication via telehealth without proper medical tests.

“This has been an issue for a while. It isn’t just cropping up now. It’s coming to a head,” Laszloffy said.

The federal court decision is under appeal. In the meantime, the decision — which extends until 30 days after the end of the public health emergency declared by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar due by the COVID-19 pandemic — remains in effect.

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