Attorney Erin Hawley, wife of MO senator, fighting to end FDA approval of abortion pill

Erin Morrow Hawley, an attorney and wife of one of Missouri’s senators, is at the center of a federal lawsuit in Texas that could cancel approval of a common drug used to terminate pregnancies, threatening abortion access in Kansas and across the country.

Hawley is one of the key lawyers fighting to end the Food and Drug Administration’s decades-old approval of mifepristone, one of the two drugs used in medication abortions, after the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned Roe v. Wade. Hawley, an appellate attorney who was also involved in that case, is married to Republican Sen. Josh Hawley.

Whether or not Hawley and the other attorneys on the Texas case are successful, they are pushing the legal envelope following the end of Roe. Hawley is helping to pioneer a new frontier of abortion litigation targeting existing — sometimes longstanding — laws and regulations that help uphold abortion access.

Hawley is senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, which pursues lawsuits on behalf of social conservative causes. ADF helped draft a challenged Mississippi anti-abortion law that led to the decision overturning Roe.

The Hawleys have together worked to limit abortion in ways that complement each other. Sen. Josh Hawley has previously sought to block judicial nominees he deems insufficiently anti-abortion. That’s helped shape the federal courts in ways that ultimately make it more receptive to lawsuits brought by Erin Hawley and other conservative attorneys.

The couple has at times cultivated a joint public image. The Hawleys in 2021 co-hosted a podcast, “This Is Living,” paid for by Sen. Hawley’s campaign, that explored issues like parenting and marriage. The last regular episode was posted in December 2021, but bonus episodes about the overturning of Roe v. Wade were released last July.

While Erin Hawley has been involved in the Texas lawsuit since it was filed in November, she took a more public role this week in the litigation, participating in oral arguments Wednesday in federal court in Amarillo, Texas, over whether Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, should issue a preliminary injunction that could effectively end the use of mifepristone in abortion.

The lawsuit has been brought on behalf of Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, a group of doctors objecting to the FDA’s approval of mifepristone. Hawley and other Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys are representing the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine.

On Wednesday, Hawley told the court that doctors in this group have been forced to treat patients who have had complications and in some instances have had to use surgical procedures to complete abortions against their deeply held beliefs, NPR reported.

Hawley also argued that “agency gamesmanship” by the FDA through changing guidance about the drug and changes to its dispensing requirements had given the court an opening to reconsider FDA approval, the Texas Tribune reported.

Alliance Defending Freedom didn’t respond Thursday to a request to interview Hawley. Erik Christopher Baptist, who is the lead plaintiff’s attorney in the lawsuit, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“We have turned the page on Roe and started a new chapter in America’s journey to better protect women and their unborn children,” Hawley said in written testimony to the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee last July.

“The judicially manufactured ‘right’ to abortion — ‘a gruesome symptom of our collective failure to take care of one another’ — has been interred, opening the door for a new birth of public and private efforts to celebrate and value mothers and the precious lives they carry.”

During an appearance on the American Moment podcast last year, Erin Hawley described traveling to Mississippi with an ADF team in April 2021 to talk about strategy surrounding the Dobbs case, which eventually led to the end of Roe. She said she took her child, Abigail, with her on the trip.

“There was also something really special, and kind of tangible, about the fact of having Abigail with me at the time we were considering this case that might have the potential of overruling Roe vs. Wade and allowing every state to protect Abby,” she said.

In a statement Thursday, Sen. Josh Hawley said: “Erin is a smart, fierce lawyer, and I’m proud of her work.”

While overturning Roe allowed states to ban abortion, the Texas lawsuit holds the potential to curtail abortion access even in states where it remains legal because medication abortion is one of the most common methods of ending a pregnancy. While Missouri immediately banned abortion, it remains legal in Kansas. Mifepristone was used in about 68% of Kansas abortions in 2021, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The Alliance Defending Freedom’s effort to block mifepristone has the support of Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, as well as Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach.

The state attorneys general, both Republicans, have submitted briefs in support of the lawsuit. Kobach, Bailey and other Republican state attorneys general contend the FDA’s approval had legal problems and that the agency over time has set aside safety standards.

But abortions rights advocates have voiced strong opposition.

“Mifepristone is one on the safest and most studied drugs in the U.S., and no matter what Judge Kacsmaryk rules, until we receive an FDA directive, Mife remains legal & Trust Women will continue to provide medication abortions with mife + miso,” Trust Women, which operates clinics in Kansas and Oklahoma, said on Twitter, referring to mifepristone and misoprostol, the other drug used in medication abortion.

The U.S. Department of Justice urged Kacsmaryk not to overturn the authorization for mifepristone, warning it could wreak havoc on reproductive health care across the country.

“An injunction here would interfere with the interests of every state in the country,” Julie Straus Harris of the U.S. Justice Department, which represented the FDA, said during the hearing, according to the Associated Press.

The immediate impact of a decision blocking mifepristone may be minimal in Missouri because the state already bans abortion. But it could make it more difficult for Missouri residents to obtain medication abortions in other states, such as Kansas and Illinois.

At times, Erin Hawley, who was previously a law professor at the University of Missouri, has attracted controversy beyond the inherently divisive nature of her legal work related to abortion.

A March 1 appearance by Hawley at Georgetown Law about “where the pro-life legal movement can and should go in a post-Roe world” drew condemnation from the law school’s LGBTQ student group and others. The event was organized by the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization.

“ADF and Ms. Hawley provided the model legislation for the Dobbs case and boasts their involvement with a slew of other anti-choice cases at the state level,” the groups said in a joint statement ahead of her appearance. The Washington Examiner reported the event wasn’t disrupted.

Erin Hawley also filed a criminal complaint against an activist who led a protest outside the couple’s northern Virginia residence in January 2021 over Sen. Hawley’s attempts to block certification of the 2020 presidential election. The couple has residences in both Missouri and Virginia.

The complaint was later dismissed after the activist reached an agreement in which he would have pleaded no contest if he violated the conditions that he have no contact with Erin Hawley and did not visit the family’s home. Because he met those conditions, the case was dismissed.