The Supreme Court Friday evening blocked a lower court ruling that would have banned the abortion drug mifepristone nationwide.
As a result, the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone and subsequent actions that made it more easily accessible will remain in place while appeals play out, potentially for months to come.
The Supreme Court granted emergency requests by the Biden Administration and mifepristone’s manufacturer Danco Laboratories, both of whom appealed a Texas court ruling 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.
The Justices had to weigh arguments that allowing restrictions contained in lower court rulings would severely disrupt the availability of the drug mifepristone.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito publicly dissented.
The pill mifepristone can be used along with another medication, misoprostol, to end a pregnancy. The FDA approved mifepristone more than 20 years ago. Currently about half of all abortions in the U.S. are medication abortion.
According to a CBS News poll released this week, a large majority of Americans—67%—want to see mifepristone remain available where abortion is legal—including some who are more generally opposed to abortion. Broken down, 84% of Democrats, 72% of Independents and 46% of Republicans surveyed said that where abortion is legal, mifepristone should be available.
A group of doctors who oppose abortion asked the Supreme Court Tuesday to keep the Texas 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 company executives who said Texas Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’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.”
The legal battle over mifepristone came to the Supreme Court less than a year after its conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to overturn Roe v Wade and 50 years of the Constitutional right to abortion.
The Supreme Court’s ruling to preserve mifepristone occurred as other cases are playing out in courts across the U.S.
Just moments after Kacsmaryk had imposed the initial nationwide injunction upon mifepristone on April 7, Judge Thomas Rice in Washington state blocked the FDA 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.