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Supreme Court's Ruling Allows Mifepristone, an Abortion Pill, to Remain Available on the Market

Picture: Reuters

Emergency requests from the Biden administration and the manufacturer of the widely used abortion pill mifepristone have been granted by the Supreme Court. The pill, which is utilized in over half of U.S. abortions, will remain available on the market despite lower-court orders that would have limited its access. The high court’s decision does not reflect its opinion on the case itself, but rather on whether the pill should continue to be available while the legal challenge brought by antiabortion groups is ongoing. The Supreme Court's order, which is typical in emergency actions, was unsigned and provided no explanation.

However, it stated that access to the FDA-approved drug would remain until litigation concludes in the lower courts and the Supreme Court itself has a chance to review the decisions - a process that will likely take several months. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito expressed dissent and would have kept the lower court's order in place. Justice Alito contended that there was no evidence that either the FDA or the drug’s manufacturer would suffer harm if access to mifepristone was restricted, and that there were doubts about the government's willingness to obey such orders or enforce them if it objected strongly to them.

Medical organizations and individual doctors who oppose abortion challenged the FDA's initial approval of the pill in 2000 and recent regulations that facilitated its acquisition. In just a few weeks, the case has rapidly progressed from a courthouse in Amarillo, Texas, where a U.S. District Court judge appointed by former President Donald Trump halted the approval of the abortion pill, to the Supreme Court. In the interim, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, located in New Orleans, partially narrowed the Texas judge's injunction, but mandated that the FDA reimpose a pre-2016 regimen for administering the drug. This regimen required limiting its use to the earliest stages of pregnancy, mandating three doctors' visits, disallowing mailing of pills to patients, and reintroducing a higher dosage than what is currently used.The Supreme Court's order has effectively overturned all of these restrictions.

The Biden administration and Danco Laboratories LLC, the company that markets the pill under the brand name Mifeprex, filed emergency appeals last week, urging the court to intervene.The Fifth Circuit is slated to hear arguments in mid-May and subsequently issue a more comprehensive ruling.

This case marks the Supreme Court's first significant abortion test since its June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which ended federal constitutional protections for the procedure. Since then, over a dozen states have prohibited a large portion of abortions.

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