Washington, D.C. – December 13, 2023
The Supreme Court announced on Wednesday its intention to examine whether to impose restrictions on a widely utilized abortion drug, even in states where abortion procedures remain legal. The case centers on mifepristone, a frequently used medication in conjunction with others for terminating pregnancies, establishing it as one of the predominant approaches in the United States.
This decision signifies the conservative-leaning court’s reentry into the abortion debate, following the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year. The repercussions of that decision led to more than half of the states either outlawing or significantly restricting abortion procedures.
The outcome of this new case, expected by July, will inject the Supreme Court into the heart of the upcoming presidential election, where abortion access is once again a central issue. Currently, mifepristone remains accessible without the restrictions recommended by lower courts, as the Supreme Court, in April, determined that its availability would remain unaffected until the conclusion of the appeals process.
The Biden administration, along with the drug’s manufacturer, is urging the justices to overturn a federal appeals court decision that, if implemented, would limit access to the drug. Simultaneously, anti-abortion groups and doctors are advocating for the Supreme Court to go beyond the conservative federal appeals court’s stance and declare the drug’s initial 2000 approval as unlawful.
The White House expressed its commitment to supporting the “safe and effective” approval and regulation of the drug by the “U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” White House Press Secretary “Karine Jean Pierre” emphasized that the government, through the Department of Justice, will defend the FDA’s actions, affirming President Biden and Vice President Harris’s dedication to preserving women’s access to reproductive care.
Erin Hawley, an attorney representing the abortion pill challengers from the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, called for the Supreme Court to align with lower-court decisions restricting access to the drug. Hawley argued, “Every court so far has agreed that the FDA acted unlawfully in removing common-sense safeguards for women and authorizing dangerous mail-order abortions. We urge the Supreme Court to do the same.”
Central to the dispute is the extent of the FDA’s authority to regulate mifepristone, a drug deemed safe and effective by the medical community and used by millions of women over its two-decade presence in the market. Initially approved in 2000, the FDA introduced modifications in 2016, 2019, and 2021, enhancing accessibility by addressing issues like dosing and in-person dispensing requirements.
Challengers, including doctors and anti-abortion groups, argue that the FDA inadequately studied the safety implications when approving the drug and making it more accessible in subsequent years. U.S. District Judge “Matthew Kacsmaryk,” appointed by former President “Donald Trump,” escalated the legal dispute by issuing a ruling this year that suspended the FDA’s 2000 approval. The decision was based on apprehensions regarding psychological trauma and safety concerns linked to chemical abortion.
While the Supreme Court agreed to consider an appeals court decision restricting access to the drug, it declined a separate appeal questioning the legality of the FDA’s 2000 approval. Analysts suggest that this decision indicates a focus on procedural aspects rather than directly affecting access to mifepristone.
In a legal appeal, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar emphasized the significance of mifepristone, stating that “more than half of American women who choose to terminate their pregnancies rely on mifepristone.” She warned that the lower court’s decision, if implemented, would disrupt the regulatory framework, impacting women seeking lawful abortions and challenging the pharmaceutical industry.
The case, with potentially far-reaching consequences, now awaits the Supreme Court’s thorough consideration, further intensifying the ongoing national debate on abortion rights and regulations.