The US Supreme Court could decide in its next term from October to June whether to restrict access to the abortion pill in the United States following a ruling by an American appeals court. It ruled that one of the two drugs used in medication abortions should not be prescribed past seven weeks of pregnancy or through telehealth consultations and mail delivery. However, the ruling will not take effect immediately to allow for a Department of Justice appeal to the nation’s highest court.
The Appeals Court stopped short of banning the drug altogether as a lower court had done. The Reuters news agency reports the ruling stems from a lawsuit brought by four pro-life groups and four doctors headed by the recently formed Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine. They contend that the regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), used an improper process when it approved the drug mifepristone 23-years ago, and did not adequately consider the drug’s safety when used by minors.
“The court rightly required the FDA to do its job and restore crucial safeguards for women and girls, including ending illegal mail-order abortions,” said Erin Hawley of Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal nonprofit which represented the pro-life groups challenging the abortion drug’s approval. That view was echoed by Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which said the FDA had been “reckless.”
Mifepristone is part of a two-drug regimen with misoprostol for medication abortions, which account for more than half of all US abortions. Numerous medical studies and many years of real-world use have concluded that the drug is safe and effective.
GenBioPro Inc. which sells a generic version of mifepristone, said: “We remain concerned about extremists and special interests using the courts in an attempt to undermine science and access to evidence-based medication, as well as attempts to undermine the FDA’s regulatory authority.” Major medical associations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association, have said that pulling mifepristone off the market would harm patients by forcing them to undergo more invasive surgical abortions
Reuters writes that all three judges on the Court of Appeals panel are staunchly conservative, with a history of opposing abortion rights. Judge James Ho said he would have pulled mifepristone off the market, but the other two judges said the lawsuit came too late to challenge the original approval in the year 2000. In a majority decision they rolled back the FDA actions that had made the drug much easier to access in recent years.
Those included allowing mifepristone to be prescribed by telemedicine and sent by mail, instead of requiring an in-person doctor visit. The court also reversed the agency’s decision to allow mifepristone to be used up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, up from seven weeks. The judges wrote that those steps “were taken without sufficient consideration of the effects those changes would have on patients.”