The US Supreme Court has granted a temporary stay on the decision to place restrictions on a widely-used abortion pill, mifepristone, which accounts for more than half of the abortions performed in the United States. The stay was extended for two more days, allowing the court more time to decide what to do with the case, which is the most significant on reproductive rights since it tossed out the constitutional right to abortion last year in an opinion penned by Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative.
The case stems from a recent ruling by a US District Court judge in Texas that would have banned mifepristone, which was approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2000. An appeals court blocked the ban on the pill but imposed tough restrictions on access, leading to the involvement of the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court, where conservatives wield a 6-3 majority, could rule in any number of ways. The court could decide to freeze the lower court rulings pending an appeal from the Justice Department and the mifepristone manufacturer Danco Laboratories. Alternatively, it could allow the rulings restricting access to the abortion pill to take effect while the case plays out at the appellate level. The court could also decide to hear arguments in the case itself on an expedited basis.
Complicating the case even further is a ruling by a separate federal court in Washington state that said access to mifepristone should be maintained.
Since the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that enshrined the constitutional right to abortion for half a century, 13 states have banned abortion, and it has been severely restricted in others. Democratic Representative Katherine Clark said that the court faces a “clear choice” to uphold legal and scientific facts or capitulate to MAGA extremism. She referred to former Republican President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Opposition to the legal attack on the abortion pill is being spearheaded by the Justice Department, which argued that the initial federal judge’s ruling was based on a “deeply misguided assessment” of the pill’s safety. Mifepristone is one component of a two-drug regimen that can be used through the first ten weeks of pregnancy. It has a long safety record, and the FDA estimates 5.6 million Americans have used it to terminate pregnancies since it was approved.
The appellate court, while striking down the ban on mifepristone, restricted its use to seven weeks of pregnancy, down from ten, and prohibited distribution by mail. Polls repeatedly show a clear majority of Americans support continued access to safe abortion, even as conservative groups push to limit the procedure or ban it outright.