US Supreme Court upholds mifepristone access amid ongoing battle for reproductive rights News
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US Supreme Court upholds mifepristone access amid ongoing battle for reproductive rights

The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that abortion pill mifepristone will continue to be widely accessible as the ongoing appeals process takes place. 

Mifepristone, approved in 2000, is used broadly to end pregnancies. The FDA’s approval was challenged by doctors and medical groups claiming the drug regimen was “unsafe.” On April 7, a Texas federal district court halted the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of mifepristone, a medication used in half of all US abortions and miscarriage care for over two decades. Less than a week later, the ruling was partially blocked on appeal, with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the abortion drug would remain available on a limited basis pending an ongoing legal dispute. The latter decision permitted partial access to the abortion drug, albeit with new restrictions, in particular, limiting its use up to seven weeks of pregnancy and disallowing mail distribution.

The Supreme Court ruling keeps mifepristone widely available during ongoing litigation. The case is slated to return to the Fifth Circuit for oral argument next month.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito disagreed with the ruling, the former noting that he would have denied the application for stays, and the latter providing a dissenting opinion from the grant of applications for stays. Thomas provided no further argument. Alito argued that the applicants had failed to demonstrate the likelihood of irreparable harm and accused the FDA of leveraging court injunctions to evade agency procedures and judicial review. 

US President Joe Biden issued a statement Friday evening lauding the decision and vowing to continue to advocate for women’s reproductive rights:

As a result of the Supreme Court’s stay, mifepristone remains available and approved for safe and effective use while we continue this fight in the courts. I continue to stand by FDA’s evidence-based approval of mifepristone, and my Administration will continue to defend FDA’s independent, expert authority to review, approve, and regulate a wide range of prescription drugs. The stakes could not be higher for women across America. I will continue to fight politically-driven attacks on women’s health. But let’s be clear – the American people must continue to use their vote as their voice, and elect a Congress who will pass a law restoring the protections of Roe v Wade.

The Biden Administration has broadly criticized the lower courts’ rulings in this case.  On April 13, the Justice Department issued a statement vowing to seek emergency relief:

“The Justice Department strongly disagrees with the Fifth Circuit’s decision inAlliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDAto deny in part our request for a stay pending appeal. We will be seeking emergency relief from the Supreme Court to defend the FDA’s scientific judgment and protect Americans’ access to safe and effective reproductive care.”

This comes amid conflicting rulings, with anti-abortion rights groups challenging the FDA’s approval of mifepristone and 17 states, along with the District of Columbia, fighting to preserve access to the medication. The same day the federal district court ended the FDA’s approval, another judge in Washington State ordered the FDA to maintain the drug’s availability in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Amid escalating tensions between pro-life advocates pushing for restricted abortion access and pro-choice defenders fighting to maintain it, the complex policy battles unfold in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s 2021 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling. This decision upended the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case, which had previously enshrined a woman’s right to abortion under the constitutional right to privacy, legalizing it nationwide.