Judge's attempt to keep abortion hearing secret speaks volumes about his bias

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS)

It’s problematic enough that a federal judge in Texas known for his aggressively right-wing politics from the bench is presiding over a lawsuit that seeks to outlaw a widely used abortion drug. If past is prelude, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk will do whatever he can to aid the anti-choice plaintiffs — as demonstrated by his remarkably brazen attempt this week to thwart protests and media coverage of the case.

Kacsmaryk is a Donald Trump appointee who has a history of controversial rulings on immigration, LGBTQ rights and other issues. In the current case, he tried to postpone putting a Wednesday hearing on the public court docket, as would normally happen, according to a Washington Post report that exposed the scheme. If this is the judge’s idea of a fair and impartial approach to this important case, women seeking abortion care around the country are truly in trouble.

In this 2018 photo, mifepristone and misoprostol pills are provided at a Carafem clinic for medication abortions in Skokie, Illinois. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

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At issue is a lawsuit by a conservative group seeking to revoke the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone, a drug commonly used in early stage medication abortions, which is the most common form of the procedure. Plaintiffs claim the FDA ignored harmful side effects of the drug, despite the fact that it was approved more than two decades ago and has been widely used with few reported problems since then.

The plaintiffs’ real motivation is made obvious by the timing of the litigation: Last year’s Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade has led to draconian abortion bans in multiple states, including Missouri, and anti-choice activists are determined to shut down any remaining avenue for women to maintain their biological rights. If Kacsmaryk reverses federal approval of the drug, it would severely hamper those rights not only in anti-abortion states but also in states where the procedure remains legal.

Obviously, the case has generated intense interest — which may explain why Kacsmaryk sought to effectively exclude wide media coverage and public protests by attempting to make Wednesday’s hearing a stealth operation. In a Friday phone conference with lawyers, Kacsmaryk said he would wait until late Tuesday to put the Wednesday morning hearing on the public docket in order to minimize possible protests, an extremely unusual move. He also asked the lawyers not to publicly reveal the scheduled hearing, The Post reported Saturday.

Since Kacsmaryk’s Amarillo courtroom is several hours’ drive from Texas’ larger cities, the lack of an announcement in advance would have amounted to a media and public blackout of the hearing. Kacsmaryk relented and publicly announced the hearing this week only after a coalition of media outlets protested.

The fact that the hearing will now get the media scrutiny it merits is more important than ever, given this timely reminder that anti-choice forces will stop at nothing to deny America’s women control over their own bodies.

— From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS).