The US Supreme Court on Tuesday reinstated a federal requirement that women accessing early abortion drug mifepristone must pick up the drug in person from their health care providers.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) typically requires that mifepristone is only dispensed in clinics, medical offices or hospitals. The FDA also requires that patients sign a Patient Agreement Form in the physical presence of a certified health care provider, which then provides the patient with a physical copy of the form.
In July a judge for the US District Court for the District of Maryland issued a preliminary injunction that temporarily stopped the FDA from requiring patients to physically travel to their health care providers to access mifepristone. The district court granted the injunction because of COVID-19, and it was set to last until 30 days after the end of the public health emergency.
However, the government appealed the decision. The Supreme Court granted an application for a stay on Tuesday. The court stayed the district court’s preliminary injunction, pending disposition of the appeal in the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and disposition of the petition for a writ of certiorari. Chief Justice Roberts concurred in the decision, writing that he did not see a sufficient basis for the district court to compel the FDA to change its medical abortion regimen.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, dissented. She wrote that the policy “imposes an unnecessary, unjustifiable, irrational, and undue burden on women seeking an abortion during the current pandemic.” She stated that mifepristone is the only FDA-approved drug required to be picked up in person to be taken home. The government currently permits patients to receive prescriptions for “powerful opioids” at home, but women must still physically go to their health care providers to receive mifepristone to ingest at home without supervision. She argued that the government acknowledged that, because of COVID-19, physically going to a healthcare provider posed a “significant risk” to individuals’ health.
This was the first abortion-related decision since conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in last year.