Judge rules West Virginia can restrict abortion pill sales

August 25, 2023

U.S. District Court Judge Robert C. Chambers on Thursday said West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) can impose a near-total ban on the sale of the abortion pill, mifepristone.

Chambers ruled that restrictions the governor signed in September 2022 take precedence over the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the abortion pill, writing, “The Supreme Court has made it clear that regulating abortion is a matter of health and safety upon which States may appropriately exercise their police power.”

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.

Earlier this month, conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals erased a lower court’s ruling that would have taken the abortion pill mifepristone off the market across the county, though it upheld some limitations on its access.

That court’s three-judge panel’s ruling, though, did not impact current availability to the drug, as the Supreme Court has already ruled that mifepristone may remain on the market while legal battles play out. 

A group of doctors who oppose abortion had asked the Supreme Court in April 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 company executives who said Texas Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’s April ruling—which would take the abortion pill off the market nationwide even in state’s where abotion remains legal—ignored both scientific and legal precedent. 

In West Virginia, Judge Chambers wrote in his decision that the medical profession “is arguably a field in which the states have an even stronger interest and history of exercising authority.”

He dismissed a majority of drug manufacturer GenBioPro’s challenges, finding that there is “no disputing that health, medicine, and medical licensure are traditional areas of state authority.”

The legal battle over mifepristone arose 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 on June 24, 2022.

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