Judge in Abortion Pill Case Set Hearing but Sought to Delay Telling the Public

The Washington Post earlier reported on the Friday call and upcoming hearing.

In asking the lawyers to keep quiet about the hearing, the judge did not issue a gag order, which would bar the participants on the call from sharing the information. Rather, he asked them to keep the information secret “as a courtesy.”

He said that the court would provide seating for the public and the press, but his plan to provide little advance notice seemed likely to have the practical effect of minimizing the number of people who would attend, according to people familiar with the discussion. Amarillo, in the Texas Panhandle, is several hours’ drive from other major Texas cities, and only a couple of those cities provide direct flights.

On Friday, the public court record showed subtle signs that something unusual had occurred. That morning, the first new entry in 10 days was added to the case’s docket: a notice of appearance for a Justice Department lawyer, a standard document usually added to a case in advance of an upcoming proceeding, but the docket did not show any proceeding.

In addition, there was a gap in the numerical listing of documents in the docket — document 124 was missing — suggesting that a recent entry had been sealed. People familiar with the case said the sealed document referred to the Friday meeting between the judge and the lawyers.

After the meeting, the participants shared Judge Kacsmaryk’s request with their team members, who noted that it was unusual to hold the status conference under seal and to keep the public from knowing about the hearing. The federal government generally objects to closed hearings unless they are necessary to protect national security interests.

The lawsuit claims that the F.D.A. did not adequately review the scientific evidence or follow proper protocols when it approved mifepristone in 2000 and that it has since ignored safety risks of the medication. The lead plaintiff, the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, was incorporated in August in Amarillo, shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Judge Kacsmaryk is the only federal judge covering the Amarillo division in the court’s Northern District.

The F.D.A. and the Department of Justice have strongly disputed the lawsuit’s claims and said the F.D.A.’s rigorous reviews of mifepristone over the years had repeatedly reaffirmed its decision to approve mifepristone, which blocks a hormone that allows a pregnancy to develop. In a court filing, the F.D.A. said that overturning its approval of mifepristone would “cause significant harm, depriving patients of a safe and effective drug that has been on the market for more than two decades.”