A federal judge told lawyers involved in a major medication abortion case last week that he did not want to publicize plans to hold a hearing in the case because of a “barrage” of death threats and other harassment that has been directed towards his courthouse, according to a transcript obtained by CNN of a private status conference.
US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, on a teleconference with the attorneys on Friday, said: “This is not a gag order but just a request for courtesy given the death threats and harassing phone calls and voicemails that this division has received.”
The judge did not say where the threats came from.
“We want a fluid hearing with all parties being heard,” the judge added. “I think less advertisement of this hearing is better.”
At Wednesday’s hearing, Kacsmaryk will be considering a request for a preliminary injunction sought by the plaintiffs, anti-abortion doctors and medical associations that are asking him to block the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a drug used in medication abortion.
During the Friday teleconference, he said that he would put a public order scheduling the hearing on the public docket on Tuesday, the day before the Wednesday morning hearing in Amarillo, Texas.
“To minimize some of the unnecessary death threats and voicemails and harassment that this division has received from the start of the case, we’re going to post that later in the day,” Kacsmaryk said, according to the transcript. “So it may even be after business hours, but that will be publicly filed.”
“Other elements of this case have brought a barrage of death threats and protesters and the rest. I don’t want that to disrupt your presentation to the court,” the judge told the attorneys on the call.
Kacsmaryk’s effort to delay the hearing plans from becoming public was first reported by The Washington Post on Saturday, and prompted a public outcry from media outlets and legal experts who said that the effort undermined the principles of judicial transparency. He ultimately posted the scheduling order for the hearing to the court’s docket on Monday afternoon, as well as a docket entry for the Friday call.
During the call, Kacsmaryk assured the attorneys that the normal courthouse security protocols will be in place for Wednesday’s hearing, but he asked that the attorneys “not further advertise or Tweet any of the details of this hearing so that all parties can be heard and we don’t have any unnecessary circus-like atmosphere of what should be more of an appellate-style proceeding.”
The case concerns a challenge brought by anti-abortion doctors and medical associations to the federal government’s 2000 approval of a drug used to terminate pregnancies. Medication abortion is the most common method of abortion in the United States.
If the judge grants the request to block access to the drug nationwide, it could make the pills harder to obtain even in states where medication abortion is legal.