Supreme Court Unanimously Preserves Access to Abortion Pill

On Thursday, the Supreme Court unanimously preserved access to a medication used in almost two-thirds of all abortions in the United States last year, in the first decision by the court since it overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago.

Justices ruled abortion opponents lacked the right legally to sue over the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone — the medication used to cause a miscarriage — and the FDA’s subsequent actions to ease access to it.

The case had threatened to restrict access across the country to the drug, including in states where abortion is still legal.

The high court is considering another abortion case separately, about whether a federal law on emergency treatment at hospitals overrides abortion bans in states in rare emergency cases where pregnant patients’ health is at significant risk.

Over six million individuals have used mifepristone since 2000. The drug blocks the hormone progesterone and prepares the uterus to respond to misoprostol, a second drug that has a contraction-causing effect.

The two-drug regimen has been utilized to halt a pregnancy through 10 weeks gestation.

Healthcare providers have said if mifepristone isn’t any longer available or too difficult to obtain, they will switch to using only misoprostol, which is considered somewhat less effective in ending pregnancies.

The administration of Joe Biden and drug manufacturers had warned that siding with opponents of abortion, in this case, could undermine the drug approval process of the FDA past the context of abortion by inviting judges to second-guess the scientific judgments of the agency. 

New York-based Danco Laboratories manufactures mifepristone, and the Democratic administration argued the drug is among the safest the FDA has ever approved.

Abortion opponents argue FDA’s decision to relax restrictions on drug “jeopardize women’s health”

Opponents of abortion argued in court papers that the FDA’s decisions in 2016 and 2021 to relax restrictions on getting the drug were unreasonable and “jeopardize women’s health across the nation.”

The case on mifepristone began five months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe. Opponents of abortion initially won a broad ruling almost a year ago from U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump nominee in Texas, which would have revoked the approval for the drug completely.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals left the FDA’s initial approval of mifepristone intact. However, it would reverse changes that regulators made in 2016 and 2021 that eased some conditions for drug administration.

The Supreme Court put the appeals court’s modified ruling on hold and then agreed to hear the case, although Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito would have allowed some restrictions to take effect while the case proceeded.