Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Supreme Court delays decision in abortion drug case until Friday

A Texas judge sided with anti-abortion activists to remove the government’s approval of a commonly used abortion drug. The Supreme Court has blocked that decision, for now

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 19 April 2023 21:13 BST
Related video: Biden official says ‘every option is on the table’ to keep abortion drug available

The US Supreme Court has extended its pause on a lower court ruling that would strip the government’s approval of a widely used abortion drug, which will remain available, at least for now.

An order from the nation’s highest court that put the ruling on hold was set to lapse at midnight on Wednesday. An order issued on Wednesday afternoon extended that hold until midnight on Friday.

Earlier this month, US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Texas sided with a group of anti-abortion activists seeking to overturn the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone, was was first approved by the agency 23 years ago. The medicine is part of a two-drug protocol for medication abortion, which accounts for more than half of all abortions in the US.

It is unclear how the Supreme Court will rule on the appeal, though a ruling to strike down the FDA’s approval of the drug would drastically impact access to abortion and miscarriage care for millions of Americans across the country, including in states where it is legally protected.

A federal appeals court blocked parts of the judge’s decision but stripped away other government rules that expanded the drug’s approval for use for up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, when most people are still learning they are pregnant.

President Joe Biden’s administration will “continue to fight” for abortion rights regardless of the court’s decision, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday before the court’s latest announcement.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade and revoke a constitutional right to abortion care last summer, anti-abortion activists and right-wing legal campaigns took aim at mifepristone. The same legal group that backed the effort to overturn Roe is leading the charge against the drug.

Stripping away access to the drug could further erode access to abortion care across the country in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in last years’s Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Lack of access to the drug would be especially devastating in more than a dozen states that have effectively criminalised care or severely restricted access in the months after Roe was overturned.

“The Supreme Court should have issued a stay to stop this attempt to take away access to mifepristone but instead, the court continues to delay any action,” Jenny Ma, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement shared with The Independent on Wednesday.

“In the meantime, abortion providers and their patients across the country have been living in chaos, unclear if they’ll still be able to prescribe and access this critical medication,” she added. “So much harm has already been unleashed since the district court’s decision, and it’s time to stop further disruption across the nation.”

Abortion rights advocates and legal groups have warned that duelling federal court rulings and murky legal decisions have added layers of confusion for abortion providers already navigating complicated abortion laws that fly against health guidelines.

The lower courts’ decisions were widely condemned by major medical groups for relying on anectodal reporting from anti-abortion groups and apparently ignoring evidence of mifepristone’s safety and efficacy.

Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, urged the court to “listen to the FDA, pharmaceutical industry experts, and leading national medical groups, and block the decision.”

“People who need an abortion or miscarriage treatment shouldn’t be left to wonder if they will be able to get the care they need or if the Supreme Court will instead abruptly take that ability away from them,” she added in a statement shared with The Independent. “The decisions from lower courts are so fundamentally flawed that they have been roundly criticized by experts across the ideological spectrum. The court should put an end to this baseless and dangerous case once and for all.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in