US Supreme Court to decide on access to abortion pill in major case

The Biden administration aims to preserve access to the abortion pill mifepristone, which has been approved by the FDA.

A woman holds a sign that says: 'You can't ban abortions, you cab only ban SAFE abortions'.
An abortion-rights supporter holds a sign outside the South Carolina in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision overturning of Roe v Wade [File: AP/Meg Kinnard]

The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a bid by President Joe Biden’s administration to preserve access to the abortion pill, setting up another major ruling on reproductive rights set to come in a presidential election year.

The court made the decision Wednesday, two years after it ended its recognition of a constitutional right to abortion.

The justices took up the administration’s appeal of an August decision by the New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals that would curb how the pill, called mifepristone, is delivered and distributed, barring telemedicine prescriptions and shipments by mail of the drug.

The high court also agreed to hear an appeal by the drug’s manufacturer, Danco Laboratories.

The 5th Circuit’s decision is currently on hold pending the outcome of the appeal at the Supreme Court in a challenge to the pill brought in Texas by anti-abortion rights groups and doctors.

The justices are expected to hear arguments in the coming months and issue a decision by the end of June in the middle of a heated presidential race.

The Department of Justice in its filing to the Supreme Court said that allowing the 5th Circuit’s restrictions to take effect would have “damaging consequences for women seeking lawful abortions and a healthcare system that relies on the availability of the drug under the current conditions of use”.

Abortion a key election issue

Anti-abortion rights groups want to see mifepristone banned, claiming it is unsafe, despite the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s approval of it back in 2000, and that adverse effects of the drug are rare.

The US government argues the use of mifepristone should be left to FDA, but at a hearing in May, the three judges in the lower court pushed back against the government’s arguments.

As such, the case could put at risk the authority of the FDA.

It stems from a ruling by a conservative US District Court judge in Texas that would have banned mifepristone.

Biden’s administration is seeking to defend the pill in the face of abortion bans and restrictions enacted by Republican-led states since the Supreme Court in June 2022 overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision that had legalised the procedure.

Since the overturning, at least 14 US states have put in place outright abortion bans while many others prohibit abortion after a certain duration of pregnancy.

Abortion rights are a divisive issue in the 2024 presidential race.

Biden’s main challenger, former President Donald Trump, appointed three members of the Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority – all three of whom voted to overturn Roe.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies