Biden administration to bring abortion pill case to Supreme Court

The decision comes shortly after an appeals court left numerous restrictions on abortion pill access in place.

A doctor watches a patient take an abortion pill at a clinic
A doctor watches a patient take mifepristone in a medical clinic in New Mexico in January [File: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) will ask the Supreme Court to halt restrictions on the sale of the abortion pill mifepristone, shortly after a decision by an appeals court that narrowed an earlier ruling that would have revoked the pill’s approval for use.

However, that appeals court nevertheless imposed numerous restrictions on mifepristone’s availability, blocking it from being mailed or distributed to patients between seven to 10 weeks of pregnancy, as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has allowed in recent years.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland stated on Thursday that the DOJ would seek emergency relief from the Supreme Court as the Biden administration tries to defend abortion pill access.

“We will be seeking emergency relief from the Supreme Court to defend the FDA’s scientific judgment and protect Americans’ access to safe and effective reproductive care,” Garland said in a statement Thursday.

Access to abortion pills such as mifepristone has become a focus of anti-abortion rights groups following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade last June, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion in the US. In the months since, numerous Republican-led states have passed sweeping abortion bans.

Last Friday, Texas District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk issued an injunction that would have temporarily suspended FDA approval for mifepristone while he heard litigation about access to the pill.

That decision was quickly contested by the Biden administration, and the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled late on Wednesday that mifepristone could still be used.

However, in a two-to-one decision, the appeals court kept certain restrictions in place, effectively rolling back guidelines the FDA issued in 2016 to ease access to mifepristone.

Those 2016 rules had allowed mifepristone to be dispensed without a visit to a doctor’s office and permitted women up to 10 weeks pregnant to use the pill, increased to from seven weeks.

In his statement, Garland said that the DOJ “strongly disagrees” with the appeals court’s decision and would appeal those restrictions to the Supreme Court.

Abortion pills, such as mifepristone, account for more than half of all abortions in the US and can be safely used in a private setting. Additionally, mifepristone is used to treat miscarriages as well as Cushing’s disease.

The FDA, the federal agency that determines the safety of drugs and medicine, approved the use of mifepristone more than 20 years ago, and the Biden administration has said that Kacsmaryk’s ruling undermined the agency’s ability to make scientific determinations about the safety of drugs.

“We are going to continue to fight in the courts, we believe the law is on our side, and we will prevail,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Thursday.

The DOJ’s decision to appeal the ruling was greeted by pro-abortion rights politicians and advocacy groups.

“The Justice Department is right to fight last night’s appeals court ruling that blocks the abortion pill mifepristone from being sent by mail. This drug has been safely in use for decades,” California Congresswoman Katie Porter said on Twitter. “Extremists’ push to limit abortion is not about science or safety; it’s about misogyny.”

In a Twitter post on Thursday, Jeanne Mancini, president of the anti-abortion rights group March for Life, said the group was “pleased” with the court’s decision to uphold what she called “common-sense” restrictions.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies