Who is Matthew Kacsmaryk, the judge overseeing the fate of abortion pill mifepristone?

In a combined illustration, Matthew Kacsmaryk appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a photo is shown of boxes of mifepristone.
Matthew Kacsmaryk at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2017; boxes of mifepristone. (Photo illistration: Yahoo News; photos: U.S. Senate via YouTube, Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

A Texas lawsuit brought by conservative groups is seeking to overturn the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a widely used abortion pill, mifepristone. U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who was appointed by then-President Donald Trump, is overseeing the case, with arguments in the high-stakes case wrapping up Wednesday.

Critics accuse litigants of “judge shopping” by filing the case in Kacsmaryk’s northern Texas court. Kacsmaryk sharply criticized abortion before he arrived on the federal bench; he previously worked as counsel for First Liberty Institute, a conservative legal group.

The lawsuit seeking to reverse the FDA’s approval was filed by Alliance Defending Freedom, a faith-based organization that has long sought to have abortion outlawed nationwide. The suit was filed on behalf of four anti-abortion medical organizations and four doctors who have treated patients with the drug.

“Our frontline doctors have firsthand experience in treating and caring for the women and girls harmed by these dangerous drugs,” Erik Baptist, Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel, told Yahoo News in an emailed statement.

Abortion rights advocates dispute those arguments.

“Mifepristone is safe, effective, and has been used by more than 5 million people since the FDA approved it more than 20 years ago,” Danika Severino Wynn, vice president of abortion access at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in an emailed statement to Yahoo News.

If successful, the lawsuit could stop the distribution of mifepristone, which the FDA approved in 2000. Such a ruling would create a significant barrier to women seeking to terminate their pregnancies without a surgical abortion.

The ruling would also add another layer of complexity to U.S. abortion laws, which vary by state following last year’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Who is Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk?

He’s a federal judge for the Amarillo division of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. He’s also the only judge in that federal district, guaranteeing that he will be the one who presides over cases that are filed there.

Trump nominated Kacsmaryk to the District Court in 2017. During his Senate confirmation hearings, Kacsmaryk asserted that he would be fair, separating his religious beliefs from his rulings.

“As a judge, I’m no longer in the advocate role,” Kacsmaryk said at the time. “I’m in the role of reading and applying with all good faith whatever Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit precedent is binding.”

He was confirmed in June 2019 by a Republican majority Senate by a vote of 52-46. Centrist Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican who voted against Kacsmaryk’s appointment due to his “alarming bias against LGBTQ Americans and disregard for Supreme Court precedents.”

Collins was referring to two 2015 articles he published attacking same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

What have been some of his more recent rulings?

Last November, Kacsmaryk rejected the Biden administration’s efforts to extend health care discrimination protections to LGBTQ people. His ruling found that a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision that bans workplace discrimination doesn’t apply to health care.

In December, Kacsmaryk sided with a Christian father who didn’t want his daughter to have access to birth control without his permission. The judge ruled that Title X, a federal program that provides low-cost or free and confidential contraception access, violated the “constitutional right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children.”

What was his upbringing like?

Kacsmaryk, 45, was born in Gainesville, Fla., according to the Federal Judicial Center.

He grew up in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas, where religion played a key role in his family of born-again Christians who regularly attended West Freeway Church of Christ and were taught at an early age that abortion was wrong, his sister Jennifer Griffith told the Washington Post.

Griffith recalled that their mother was a microbiologist who began to question some of what she was taught after joining the church. She started working with anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers.

According to the newspaper, Kacsmaryk’s anti-abortion beliefs were ingrained when he was a 22-year-old law student and one of his sisters, 17, became pregnant and chose adoption over abortion. Later on in life, he joined the organization that cared for his sister, Christian Homes and Family Services, and in 2016 became a trustee, according to public records.

How did he get his legal career started?

Kacsmaryk attended Abilene Christian University, where he led the College Republicans student group and wrote a letter to the editor his freshman year advocating for the rights of an unborn child, as reported by the Post. In the letter, he wrote, “The Democratic Party’s ability to condone the federally sanctioned eradication of innocent human life is indicative of the moral ambivalence undergirding this party.”

Kacsmaryk received his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law in 2003, and he started his legal career at Baker Botts LLP. He went on to become an assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Texas.

In 2014 he joined First Liberty Institute, a conservative legal group focused on defending the rights of religious people. He represented the defendants in a high-profile case involving two Oregon bakers who refused to make a cake for a lesbian wedding.