Landmark Case Could Impact Access to Abortion Medication
The Supreme Court has announced that it will hear a case that could result in stricter limits on abortion pills, which are currently the most common method for ending early pregnancies. The decision comes in response to the Biden administration’s appeal, challenging rulings by conservative judges in Texas. These judges disagreed with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) stance that mifepristone, the primary drug used in abortion pills, is safe and effective and should be widely available.
Controversy over FDA Regulations
The case centers around FDA regulations implemented in 2016 and 2021. These regulations extended the timeframe for using abortion pills from seven weeks to ten weeks of pregnancy. They also allowed for the medication to be dispensed without requiring multiple visits to a doctor’s office. Currently, the pills can be obtained from pharmacies or delivered through the mail.
Since its approval by the FDA in 2000, more than 5 million women in the United States and countless others worldwide have used these drugs, according to government lawyers. The upcoming Supreme Court arguments in the spring will mark the most significant abortion case since the court’s conservative majority struck down the constitutional right to abortion in 2022.
Potential Impact and Legal Battle
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of anti-abortion advocates who sued in Texas, it would limit the legal use of abortion medication to only seven weeks of pregnancy. Additionally, patients would be required to make one or more visits to a doctor’s office. In April, the Biden administration won a temporary victory when the Supreme Court voted to block the rulings of a judge in west Texas and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented from this decision.
In her appeal, Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar argued that the anti-abortion activists who brought the case in Amarillo, Texas, lacked legal standing to sue. She also maintained that the Texas judges had no grounds for overturning the FDA’s regulations. Prelogar emphasized that the court’s decisions marked the first time any court had restricted access to an FDA-approved drug based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment.
Differing Perspectives on Safety and Access
While the district judge in Amarillo wanted to remove the drugs from the market entirely, the 5th Circuit judges agreed that it was too late to challenge the FDA’s initial approval of mifepristone in 2000. However, they rejected the regulatory updates made in 2016 and 2021 that expanded access to the drugs through pharmacies and mail delivery. Prelogar argued against the courts vetoing “a scientific judgment FDA has maintained across multiple administrations” and imposing “unnecessary restrictions on the distribution of a drug that has been used safely by millions of Americans over more than two decades.”
Lawyers representing the Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization that sued to halt the use of abortion pills, described the 5th Circuit’s approach as a way to restore “common-sense safeguards” for women who take chemical abortion drugs. They argued that upholding the Biden administration’s rules would effectively establish a “national mail-order abortion scheme,” making the procedure readily available across the country.
This upcoming Supreme Court case will have far-reaching implications for abortion access and the regulation of medication. It will undoubtedly be closely watched by individuals and organizations on both sides of the abortion debate.