US: Supreme Court maintains access to abortion pill

The US Supreme Court on Friday upheld access to a drug used in the most common method of terminating a pregnancy, rejecting lower court restrictions while a lawsuit is resolved.

The judges granted emergency requests from the government of President Joe Biden and from Danco laboratories, manufacturers of the drug mifepristone. They are appealing a lower court ruling that would void the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of mifepristone.

The drug has been licensed in the United States since 2000 and more than 5 million people have used it. Mifepristone is used in combination with a second drug, misoprostol, in more than half of all abortions in the United States.

The top court’s decision on Friday is almost certain to keep access to mifepristone unchanged until at least next year while appeals are resolved, including a possible appeal to the Supreme Court.

Justices Samuel Alito, author of last year’s decision that overturned the Roe v. Wade ruling, and Clarence Thomas voted to make the restrictions take effect. No other judges commented.

The judges weighed arguments that allowing the restrictions contained in the lower court rulings to be implemented would seriously disrupt the availability of mifepristone.

The Supreme Court had originally said it would issue a decision Wednesday on whether the restrictions could take effect while the case continues. A one-sentence order signed by Alito on Wednesday gave judges two extra days, without explanation.

The challenge to the use of mifepristone, brought by opponents of abortion, is the first controversy related to abortion to reach the highest court in the country since its conservative majority overturned the ruling in Roe v. Wade 10 months ago and allowed more than a dozen states ban abortion.

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In his June majority opinion of last year, Alito said one of the reasons for overturning Roe’s ruling was to take the federal courts away from the fight over pregnancy termination. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the abortion issue to the elected representatives of the people,” he wrote.

But even with their court victory, abortion critics returned to the federal courts with a new target: medical abortions, which account for more than half of all abortions in the United States.

Women who want to end their pregnancy in the first 10 weeks without having to undergo a surgically induced abortion can take mifepristone, along with misoprostol. The FDA has relaxed the terms of use for mifepristone over the years, including allowing it to be mailed in states that allow access.

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