Supreme Court hearing controversial case over abortion pills

 March 26, 2024

Twenty months after the Supreme Court delegated abortion policy to individual states, the justices are set to review a case on Tuesday that could restrict access to a commonly used drug in medication abortions.

The dispute revolves around actions taken by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) starting in 2016 to ease access to the abortion pill, mifepristone.

The legal challenge

A coalition of medical associations opposed to abortion rights has challenged the FDA's actions, alleging unlawful relaxation of regulations surrounding mifepristone's usage.

Before deliberating on whether the FDA's modifications complied with the law, the justices must address a procedural matter: whether the challenging doctors and their associations have legal standing to contest the FDA's actions in federal court.

The outcome of the case holds significant implications for nationwide access to the abortion pill. Any decision to reverse the FDA's recent policy changes would affect states with both restrictive and protective abortion laws.

Warnings against changes

Mifepristone, a drug that has become a cornerstone of medication abortions, represents over half of all abortions in the U.S. in 2023, according to Guttmacher Institute research.

The FDA's efforts to facilitate access, such as allowing mail distribution and reducing in-person visit requirements, have contributed to the increased adoption of medication abortions.

The Supreme Court is now reviewing the legality of the FDA's actions, including measures taken in 2016 that expanded mifepristone's usage parameters.

This includes extending the gestational age limit and reducing the number of in-person visits required for a medication abortion.

The background

The case reached the Supreme Court following a lawsuit filed by medical associations opposing abortion rights, challenging the FDA's approval of mifepristone and subsequent regulatory changes. Despite initial rulings against the FDA, emergency measures from higher courts preserved access to the drug.

"FDA has spent decades directing women harmed by abortion drugs to emergency rooms. Many of them have sought treatment from respondent doctors," lawyers for the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine told the court.

"Now that FDA is called to account for the harm caused, the agency cannot insist that the very treatment option it directed is somehow speculative," they added.

A decision from the Supreme Court is anticipated by the end of June, with potential ramifications for abortion policies nationwide.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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