AMARILLO, Texas (CN) — A hearing in a closely watched abortion rights case ended Wednesday afternoon with no clear winners — though the federal judge overseeing the case from his small courthouse in North Texas said he planned to issue a ruling "as soon as possible."
By press time on Wednesday afternoon, no such ruling had yet been filed.
That judge — U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Donald Trump appointee — was asked by a Christian medical group to force the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to withdraw approval of two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, for use in abortions. Both are widely used to end early-term pregnancies. Because the lawsuit targets the federal approval of these drugs, such a ruling could upend reproductive healthcare even in states with strong abortion protections.
Because of its wide implications, the case has captured attention far outside of Texas. Dozens of groups have submitted amicus briefs in the case, including state governments that both support and oppose the lawsuit.
Several unusual aspects of the lawsuit have also garnered controversy. The party behind the lawsuit, a low-profile group called the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, apparently tailored its legal strategy to ensure the case would be heard by Kacsmaryk. Kacsmaryk, who has documented anti-abortion views, sought to limit public exposure to the case, including by taking the unorthodox step of postponing an announcement of Wednesday's hearing.
On its bare-bones website, the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine offers an explicitly Christian mission statement, saying it wants to "inspir[e] physicians to imitate Jesus Christ."
The group incorporated last year in Amarillo, public records show, where Kacsmaryk is the only federal district judge. Lawsuits filed there are almost certain to appear before him.
None of the groups associated with the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine are based in the region, The Intercept reported. Therefore, there would have likely been no basis to sue in Amarillo had the alliance not formed there. Meanwhile, the group's mailing address is not in Texas, but in Tennessee.
If those details were not enough to enrage pro-abortion rights groups, Kacsmaryk added to the controversy by delaying public notice about Wednesday's hearing. He did so, he said, because of death threats and his desire to avoid a "circus-like atmosphere."
A notice of the hearing was finally posted late on Monday, after several news groups lodged a complaint over what they said were unconstitutional docketing practices.
Even afterwards, Kacsmaryk did not exactly go out of his way to increase transparency around the hearing. He reportedly rejected a request from a court watchdog group to livestream the proceeding. A broadcast of the hearing was ultimately made available in Dallas, but not in Amarillo where the hearing was actually taking place.
With seating at Wednesday's hearing limited to only around 20 journalists and 20 members of the general public, people were camped out outside the Amarillo federal courthouse well before sunrise.
While journalists had traveled across the state or country to attend, most or all of the public attendees were Amarillo locals.
When the hearing finally kicked off around 9 a.m., it started with a call to prayer.
"Let's pray," a court clerk said as Kacsmaryk entered the courtroom. "God save the United States and this honorable court."
If those locals were hoping for fireworks on Wednesday, they didn't get them. Instead, the hearing focused on the legal nitty-gritty of the case, including questions of whether the alliance had standing to sue at all.
On these issues — as with the case overall — the federal government and the Christian group were sharply divided.
The feds argued that the status quo — an important consideration in injunctions — leaned in favor of keeping these drugs available to patients.