Appeals Court Maintains Partial Access to Abortion Pill

April 13, 2023

A federal appeals court has temporarily approved access to the abortion pill mifepristone, but with new time limits on its use.

The 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals says the pill remains approved for up to seven weeks of pregnancy while a lawsuit moves forward—cutting the access time from its previous approval of up to 10 weeks.

Further, the court says that for now, the pill can no longer be sent through the mail.

The ruling came in response to an appeal by the Department of Justice to a ruling by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas who halted the FDA’s approval of Mifepristone on Friday. That ruling would halt sales of the drug mifepristone—even in states where abortion remains legal—while a lawsuit regarding the pill brought by anti-abortion groups proceeds.

The Biden Administration can also appeal the latest decision by the 5th Circuit Court. Also based in Texas, the 5th Circuit has grown increasingly conservative in recent years.

Approved by the Food and Drug Administration 23 years ago, mifepristone can be used along with another medication, misoprostol, to end a pregnancy. Currently about half of all abortions in the U.S. are medication abortion.

It’s unclear how the 5th Circuit’s decision will interact with a ruling in a separate federal case in Washington state, where U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice blocked the FDA from from making any changes to access to mifepristone.

Rice handed down his ruling shortly after Kacsmaryk’s ruling on Friday. Presiding over a lawsuit brought by 17 states and the District of Columbia, Rice called the Texas judge’s nationwide injunction “inappropriate.”

While the fate of the abortion pill is battled out in the courts, a handful of Democratic state governors have begun stockpiling both mifepristone and/or misoprostol, the latter of which can be used in combo with the former but can also be taken alone to induce abortion.

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