Social Issues

US Supreme Court maintains Mifepristone abortion pill access

Washington, Apr 21 (EFE).- The United States Supreme Court decided Friday to maintain access to the abortion pill mifepristone, temporarily suspending the restrictions that an appeals court had ordered last week.

The decision means leaving the “status quo” on access to medication unchanged, at least while the appeals court decides on the legality of the approval that US regulators gave the drug more than 20 years ago.

The appeals court in question – that of the Fifth Circuit, which includes the states of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi – approved restricting access to mifepristone while evaluating the decision of a Texas judge to completely prohibit access to the pill, used in more than half of the abortions in the country.

The ruling marks the first time the Supreme Court has ruled on an abortion case after its controversial decision last summer to remove the constitutional protection it had enjoyed since the 1970s, sparking an avalanche of restrictions in conservative-ruled states.

In a message celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision, US President Joe Biden said “mifepristone continues to be available and is approved for safe and effective use as we continue the battle in the courts.”

The president said his government would continue to defend the approval of mifepristone by regulators, and declared that he will continue to “fight politically motivated attacks on women’s health.”

The Fifth Circuit had ordered its ban last week, including prohibiting the pill from being prescribed after seven weeks of pregnancy or being sent by mail.

Two of the most conservative justices on the court, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, disagreed with the decision.

Thomas did not give his reasons, but Alito published a separate four-page opinion in which he said maintaining the Fifth Circuit court’s restrictions would not have made a big difference in access to the drug.

Doing so, Alito wrote, “would have simply restored the circumstances that existed (and that the government defended) from the year 2000 to 2016,” which is when regulators decided to expand access to the abortion pill.

The ruling returns the case to the appeals court, which has set the date for the start of oral arguments for May 17.

At the center of the legal dispute is the health authorization that the Food and Drug Administration gave mifepristone 23 years ago.

Texas federal judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, nominated by former President Donald Trump (2017-2021), ordered on Apr. 8 to withdraw the health authorization for the abortion pill.

The order was appealed by Biden’s government and the court of appeals for the Fifth Circuit said the drug was only available until the first seven weeks of pregnancy and that it must be picked up in person, which was initially approved in the year 2000.

The administration expanded its approval of the drug in 2016 to allow mifepristone to be mailed and prescribed by medical professionals other than doctors, as well as extending the period in which it can be prescribed to 10 weeks of pregnancy.

This extension was invalidated by the appeals court, but the Justice Department raised the case to the Supreme Court saying the restriction would have serious consequences for women and for the pharmaceutical industry, for which the high court has had to intervene.

The Supreme Court’s decision does not mean mifepristone can be prescribed in states that have banned abortion, but it does ensure access to the drug, including by mail, remains the same, at least until appeals are resolved.

The Planned Parenthood organization, which manages the largest network of reproductive health clinics in the country, celebrated Friday’s decision, but warned that women’s health should not be at the mercy of the judicial system.

“We are relieved that access to mifepristone will continue to be protected while this meritless case proceeds. We can take a breather, but without losing vigilance,” the organization’s president, Alexis McGill Johnson, said in a statement. EFE

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