(CTN News) – In a move to defend broad access to the abortion pill Mifepristone, President Joe Biden’s administration has appealed a lower court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
This decision comes as a response to the August ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sought to restrict how Mifepristone is prescribed and distributed.
The Justice Department and the drug’s manufacturer, Danco Laboratories, filed their appeals on Friday. The 5th Circuit’s decision is on hold pending the Supreme Court’s review.
The Justice Department argues that implementing the 5th Circuit’s restrictions would have detrimental consequences for women seeking lawful abortions and the healthcare system’s reliance on the drug under its current conditions of use.
Legal Background and Key Players in the Abortion Pill Access Case
Furthermore, the case could potentially challenge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority, which approved Mifepristone in 2000.
Danco’s attorney, Jessica Ellsworth, stated that the 5th Circuit’s decision disrupted the approved conditions for using Mifepristone, known as Mifeprex, and was influenced by plaintiffs who oppose all forms of abortion but do not prescribe or use the drug.
If the Supreme Court chooses to take up the case, it could hear arguments in the next term starting in October and issue a ruling by the end of June 2024.
The 5th Circuit’s decision partially favored anti-abortion groups and doctors who challenged Mifepristone but did not go as far as a previous decision by U.S. Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas, which would have suspended FDA approval of the drug and effectively removed it from the market. In April, the Supreme Court temporarily halted Kacsmaryk’s order while litigation continued.
The Biden administration’s efforts to defend Mifepristone come in response to the surge in abortion bans and restrictions implemented by Republican-led states after the Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in June 2022, which had legalized abortion nationwide.
Mifepristone is a crucial component of medication abortion, accounting for over half of all U.S. abortions, and also has other medical uses, such as managing miscarriages.
Mifepristone’s Importance Amidst Changing Abortion Landscape
The FDA has long deemed Mifepristone safe and effective, with rare adverse effects, based on decades of use by millions of Americans.
The legal challenge against the FDA’s approval of Mifepristone and subsequent removal of certain safeguards was brought forth by anti-abortion groups led by the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine and four anti-abortion doctors, represented by the conservative religious rights group Alliance Defending Freedom.
The 5th Circuit’s August decision reversed FDA actions that had facilitated easier access to the drug, including allowing remote prescriptions and mail delivery in 2021 and extending its use up to 10 weeks of pregnancy in 2016.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last year, at least 14 U.S. states have enacted outright abortion bans, while others impose restrictions based on pregnancy length.