The US Supreme Court on Friday, April 21, temporarily preserved access to a widely used abortion pill, freezing rulings by lower courts that would have banned or severely restricted availability of the drug.
Two conservative justices disagreed with the decision in the most significant abortion case to reach the nine-member court since it overturned the constitutional right to the procedure 10 months ago.
Without commenting on the merits of the case, the decision by the nation’s highest court means that mifepristone, which accounts for more than half of the abortions in the United States, will remain available while the case plays out in an appeals court.
The Justice Department of President Joe Biden had filed an emergency appeal asking the Supreme Court to block the lower court rulings that would have banned or limited use of mifepristone.
The case stems from a ruling by a US District Court judge in Texas, in a lawsuit brought by anti-abortion groups, that would have banned mifepristone, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2000. An appeals court blocked a ban on the pill, but imposed tough restrictions on access, after which the baton was handed to the Supreme Court, where conservatives wield a 6-3 majority.
The Supreme Court decision effectively freezes the lower court rulings pending the an appellate court hearing of the appeal from the Justice Department and mifepristone manufacturer Danco Laboratories.
Reacting to the Supreme Court move, Biden said the lower court decisions “would have undermined FDA’s medical judgment and put women’s health at risk.” “As a result of the Supreme Court’s stay, mifepristone remains available and approved for safe and effective use while we continue this fight in the courts,” Biden said in a statement. “I will continue to fight politically-driven attacks on women’s health.” Planned Parenthood praised US Supreme Court abortion pill decision as ‘good news’.
Since the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that enshrined the right to abortion for half a century, 13 states have banned abortion and it has been severely restricted in others.
Opposition to the legal assault on the abortion pill is being spearheaded by the Justice Department, which argued that the initial ruling by the federal judge in Texas 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 10 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.
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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.