Supreme Court to rule on limits on commonly used abortion drugs

WASHINGTON (AP) The Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to hear a dispute over a drug used in the most common abortion method in the United States, the first abortion case since Roe v. Wade was overturned last year.

The justices will hear an appeal from the Biden administration and the maker of the drug mifepristone, asking the high court to overturn a ruling that would have cut off access to the drug through the mail and imposed other restrictions, even in states where abortion remains legal. in this way. The restrictions include shortening the time during pregnancy that mifepristone can be used from the current 10 weeks to seven weeks.

Nine judges rejected a separate appeal by abortion opponents who challenged the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) original 2000 decision to approve mifepristone as safe and effective.

The case will be argued in the spring and could be decided in late June, in the middle of the 2024 presidential and congressional campaigns.

Mifepristone, produced by New York-based Danco Laboratories, is one of two drugs used in medical abortions, which account for more than half of all abortions in the United States. More than 5 million people have used it since 2000.

The Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion in June 2022. The ruling resulted in 14 states banning abortion at all stages of pregnancy (with some exceptions), and two more once heart activity can be detected (about six weeks).

Abortion opponents challenged mifepristone the following November and initially won a sweeping ruling six months later that revoked the drug’s approval entirely. Appeals court upholds FDA’s preliminary approval of mifepristone. But it would reverse changes made by regulators in 2016 and 2021 that relaxed some conditions for dosing the drug.

Although Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, the authors of last year’s overturn of Roe, said they would allow some restrictions while the case was pending, the justices blocked the ruling from taking effect while the case was pending.

Women who want to end their pregnancy within the first 10 weeks without having a more invasive abortion procedure can take mifepristone and misoprostol. Over the years, the FDA has relaxed the conditions under which mifepristone can be used, including allowing it to be delivered by mail in states where its use is permitted.

The Democratic administration said in its appeal that the appeals court, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, ignored the FDA’s scientific judgment on the safety and effectiveness of mifepristone since it approved it in 2000.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday that the appeals ruling could undermine the FDA’s scientific, independent judgment and reimpose outdated restrictions on safe and effective medical abortion.

Lawyers for anti-abortion medical groups and individual doctors who have challenged the use of mifepristone urged the Supreme Court to reject the appeal.

Attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom, a self-described Christian law firm, wrote that the following modest decision simply restores common-sense safeguards for millions of women taking chemical abortion pills. The lead attorney on the Supreme Court filing is Erin Hawley, the wife of Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kaczmarik in Texas, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, initially vacated the FDA’s approval of mifepristone.

Responding to the expedited appeal, two other Trump-appointed judges on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the FDA’s initial approval would stand for now. But Judges Andrew Oldham and Kurt Engelhardt said much of the rest of Kachmalik’s ruling will likely take effect while the case winds its way through federal court.

In addition to reducing the length of time they take the medication and stopping dispensing it through the mail, patients seeking medical abortion must visit their doctor three times in person. Women may also be asked to take a higher dose of the drug than what the FDA says is necessary.

Healthcare providers say that if mifepristone is no longer available or is too difficult to obtain, they will switch to just misoprostol, which is slightly less effective at ending pregnancy.

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