The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the abortion pill mifepristone will continue to be widely accessible while the ongoing legal dispute unfolds in a lower court. This decision comes after the Department of Justice requested the high court to overturn rulings from lower courts that would significantly reduce the availability of the drug, even in states where abortion is still legal. The case will now proceed to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, with oral arguments scheduled for May 17th at 1 p.m. CT.
Mifepristone has become a central issue in the legal battles surrounding abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, which had previously established abortion as a nationwide constitutional right in 1973. Combined with another drug, misoprostol, mifepristone is the primary method for terminating pregnancies in the U.S., accounting for approximately 50% of all abortions.
President Joe Biden expressed support for the court’s decision, stating that it ensures women’s access to mifepristone, an FDA-approved drug for early pregnancy termination. He further affirmed that his administration will continue to defend the FDA’s independent authority to review, approve, and regulate a wide range of prescription drugs in the ongoing legal battle in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson expressed relief at the Supreme Court’s ruling but cautioned that mifepristone’s availability remains at risk as the legal dispute continues in the appeals court. She emphasized that patients and healthcare providers should not have to rely on the court system for access to medication abortion and other sexual and reproductive healthcare.
Conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas opposed the majority decision to grant the emergency request from the DOJ and Danco Laboratories, the distributor of the brand-name version of mifepristone, Mifeprex. In their emergency requests, the DOJ and Danco argued that the lower courts’ restrictions would effectively remove mifepristone from the market for months, depriving women of a safe alternative to surgical abortions while the FDA updates the drug’s labeling. Alito, however, rejected this argument in his dissent, stating that the FDA could use its enforcement discretion during litigation and allow Danco to continue distributing the drug.
The majority decision of the court maintains the status quo, allowing mifepristone to be available through mail delivery, with women able to obtain the prescription medication without an in-person doctor visit. Nevertheless, in the twelve states that have effectively banned abortion over the past year, the drug will remain largely inaccessible. Other states also have more stringent restrictions in place than FDA regulations.
The national legal battle over mifepristone began with a lawsuit filed by the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, a coalition of anti-abortion doctors, who aimed to force the FDA to remove the drug from the U.S. market entirely.
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