Maryland Board of Public Works approves procurement of thousands of doses of abortion medication

Tribune Content Agency

BALTIMORE — The Maryland Board of Public Works approved a $1.3 million contract Wednesday to purchase 30,000 doses of a popularly used abortion medication drug currently at risk of losing its long-held approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Gov. Wes Moore, who heads the Board of Public Works with Comptroller Brooke Lierman and Treasurer Dereck Davis, all of whom are Democrats, announced in April that, through a memorandum of understanding with the University of Maryland Medical System, the state planned to obtain and stockpile the medication abortion drug mifepristone directly from the drug’s manufacturer.

Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, the Maryland Department of Health’s deputy secretary for public health services, said last week that the agency would present an emergency contract before the Board of Public Works to secure funding for the stockpile.

“At my direction, and under Secretary [Laura] Herrera Scott’s leadership, the Maryland Department of Health moved quickly to secure these doses, to establish a stockpile and to secure — if the need arose — that access to these essential drugs would not be compromised at all here in the state of Maryland,” said Moore.

The state health department has procured tens of thousands of doses of mifepristone, which, when combined with the drug misoprostol, is used in 98% of medication abortions in the U.S.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research nonprofit that aims to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights, medication abortions account for more than half of U.S. abortions.

In November, anti-abortion organizations and doctors led by the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group filed a lawsuit against the FDA in a Texas federal court in an attempt to revoke mifepristone’s long-standing approval as a drug used in medication abortions, arguing that its safety risks weren’t assessed adequately when the drug was approved.

Proponents argue the drug’s track record since then proves it’s safe for use, but a federal judge in Texas, appointed by Republican President Donald Trump, suspended the FDA’s approval of the drug in an April decision. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on that decision to restore access to mifepristone while the case is appealed in the lower courts.

Moore explained Wednesday that the contract approval is in response to the lawsuit, which he said has “jeopardized access” to “something that has been available for decades, but because of this ruling, we now know is under a very unique and distinct attack.”

State Treasurer Dereck Davis was absent from Wednesday’s meeting for family celebrations. In his place was Chief Deputy Treasurer Jon Martin, who asked on Davis’ behalf if the stockpiled pills were being purchased from “a reputable source.”

Bryan Mroz, the deputy secretary of public health services at the Department of Health, explained that the procurement approved for the stockpile Wednesday went directly through ASD Specialty Healthcare, the medication’s vendor.

“So they’re very clearly reputable sources as it was the direct vendor of the product,” Mroz said.

Martin also questioned how the product’s expiration date is being monitored in light of the large-scale purchase.

“We are watching those expiration dates and we’ve coordinated our supply to match those dates and we’ve talked to vendors about making sure that we can rotate that supply in case they’re not used to make sure that they don’t expire,” Mroz said.

Though the drug currently remains available, it’s unclear whether mifepristone could continue to be prescribed if its approval is revoked.

Credit for Maryland’s quick action in response to the increasingly acrimonious national landscape toward abortion access was passed around all branches of government during Wednesday’s meeting.

Lierman, both a former Planned Parenthood intern and board member of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, thanked the General Assembly for ushering a package of abortion protection bills to Moore’s desk this legislative session. She also gave a hat tip to Attorney General Anthony Brown, who joined a lawsuit earlier this year to challenge new restrictions placed on mifepristone under the Texas lawsuit.

“These decisions matter and this is a really important opportunity for Maryland to double-down in expressing its support for women and our reproductive choices,” Lierman said. “By moving quickly when the federal court system created uncertainty around the future use and availability of mifepristone, the emergency stockpile will preserve this medication as an important option for individuals seeking safe reproductive health care here in the state of Maryland.”