Supreme Court Extends Brief Pause on Abortion Pill Restriction

April 19, 2023

The Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily extended by two days a pause on a lower court ruling that would have imposed restrictions on access to abortion drug mifepristone. 

Having said last week that the Court would rule by 11:59pm ET Wednesday, Justice Samuel Alito has now called for an “administrative stay” that moves the deadline to Friday. 

The pill mifepristone can be used along with another medication, misoprostol, to end a pregnancy. The Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone more than 20 years ago. Currently about half of all abortions in the U.S. are medication abortion.

The Supreme Court’s involvement in the issue came out of appeals by the Biden Administration and mifepristone’s manufacturer against lower court rulings that restricted access to the pill nationwide—even in states where abortion remains legal—while a lawsuit regarding the pill’s FDA approval goes forward.

A group of doctors who oppose abortion asked the Supreme Court on Tuesday to keep a lower court’s restriction on mifepristone in place, asserting that the FDA had not done enough to study the safety of the drug before approving it.

Their argument countered that of 400 pharmaceutical executives who said the lower court’s ruling ignored both scientific and legal precedent.  

A statement signed by the execs said, “If courts can overturn drug approvals without regard for science or evidence, or for the complexity required to fully vet the safety and efficacy of new drugs, any medicine is at risk for the same outcome as mifepristone.”

Wednesday’s extension was written by Alito because he has jurisdiction over the 5th Circuit Court which also ruled in the Texas dispute.

The brief extension does not forecast how the Justices will eventually rule in the case, which came to the Supreme Court less than a year after its conservative supermajority ruled 6-3 to overturn Roe v Wade and 50 years of the Constitutional right to abortion.

Nor does it indicate how the Supreme Court’s ultimate ruling will impact other cases playing out in lower courts across the U.S.

Just moments after a Texas judge had imposed the initial nationwide injunction upon mifepristone on April 7, Judge Thomas Rice in Washington state blocked the FDA from from making any changes to its access in the 17 states and DC that had brought suit against pulling the drug off the market.

While Rice’s ruling only impacted DC and those suing states, he said a nationwide injunction was “inappropriate.”

The manufacturer of generic mifepristone, GenBioPro, meanwhile, filed suit in the U.S. District Court of Maryland this week to prevent the abortion medication from being taken off the market no matter how the Supreme Court ruled.

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