The Supreme Court on Friday ruled to uphold national access to a widely used abortion drug, offering a temporary, yet significant, win for abortion rights.
The ruling means the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone, a medication used by hundreds of thousands of people annually for both abortions and miscarriages, will be maintained while other lawsuits in lower courts play out.
The case stemmed from a dizzying set of rulings in April over mifepristone’s legality and limits. Two weeks ago, Matthew Kacsmaryk, a far-right federal judge in Texas, went rogue by suspending the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, which was approved by the FDA in 2000. But just hours later, a second federal judge—Thomas O. Rice, an Obama appointee—issued an opposing ruling, ordering the FDA to keep mifepristone on the market in 17 Democratic states and Washington, D.C.
Then, on April 12, a federal appeals court seemingly met Rice and Kacsmaryk in the middle. The court ruled that mifepristone could temporarily remain on the market, but with severe limitations—like disallowing its use beyond the seventh week of pregnancy rather than the tenth, barring the distribution of the pill by mail altogether, and barring approval of the pill’s generic version.
The dueling orders all but ensured the issue was bound for the Supreme Court. It prompted the Biden administration and Danco Laboratories, the maker of mifepristone, to make an emergency application to the Supreme Court last week to uphold mifepristone’s approval and reject limits on its use and distribution while the other lawsuits make their way through the courts.
Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative, halted all lower court rulings on mifepristone on April 14 so the justices could weigh the bid by Biden’s team and Danco. That halt was set to expire at midnight on April 19, but was then extended to midnight Friday.
Attorney General Merrick Garland previously said the Biden administration “strongly disagrees” with the appeals court’s decision. “We will be seeking emergency relief from the Supreme Court to defend the FDA’s scientific judgment and protect Americans’ access to safe and effective reproductive care,” he said on April 13.
Throwing yet another spanner in the works, a manufacturer of a generic version of the abortion pill, GenBioPro, sued the FDA on Wednesday to shield itself amid the back-and-forth legal battles. In its filing, the company wrote that it was suing to keep the FDA “from depriving GenBioPro of its constitutional and statutory right to market mifepristone,” adding that its removal from the market would cause “catastrophic harm to the company” and patients.
The battle over access to abortion pills has taken center stage in the U.S. as conservative groups have tried to capitalize on the collapse of federal abortion protections in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned last year.
The case before Kacsmaryk, a Trump-appointee whose claim-to-fame has been spewing ultra-conservative nonsense like calling transgender people “delusional,” was filed by an anti-abortion group that claimed the drug was dangerous, despite it proving to be equally safe and effective for over two decades.