The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday preserved access to the abortion drug mifepristone while a lawsuit challenging the use of the drug plays out in lower courts.
The high court issued a brief on Friday evening granting emergency requests from the Biden administration and the drug's manufacturer, Danco Laboratories, to continue to allow women to access the drug. The ruling puts on hold a preliminary injunction from a federal judge in Texas, who earlier this month ordered restrictions on the abortion drug.
Two justices on the nine-member court — conservatives Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — dissented from the decision.
The court had set a deadline for itself of midnight Friday to either approve the Biden administration's request — to keep the drug available while the administration challenges a lower court ruling — or allow limited access to the drug to take effect.
The lower court ruling in question was issued April 7 by a federal judge in Texas after a coalition of anti-abortion groups and doctors argued the U.S. drug regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, improperly approved mifepristone in 2000 and did not fully assess its risks and benefits.
The ruling, which strictly limits availability of the drug, was appealed, and while an appeals court halted a portion of the ruling that would have invalidated the FDA approval, it left the limits on the drug's availability in place.
The case is expected to be further appealed and could eventually end up being decided by the Supreme Court. Friday's high court ruling makes it likely that access to mifepristone will continue at least into next year as the appeals play out.
Used in half of all abortions in US
Mifepristone is used in about half of all abortions nationwide. It has been used by as many as 5 million women since it was first approved in 2000, and major medical organizations say it has a strong safety record. The drug is also commonly used to help manage miscarriages.
Currently, the drug can be used by women to end pregnancies in the first 10 weeks, without a surgical procedure. It is available through the mail without an in-person visit to a doctor.
At the time the lower court ruling was made restricting access to the drug, President Joe Biden said in a statement the judge substituted his own judgment for that of the FDA, the expert agency responsible for approving drugs.
Biden said if the ruling is allowed to stand, "there will be virtually no prescription approved by the FDA that would be safe from these kinds of political, ideological attacks."
Fight follows reversal of Roe v. Wade
The judge who made the ruling, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, was appointed by former President Donald Trump, as were the judges on the appeals court that maintained limits on the availability of the drug.
The fight over mifepristone comes after the conservative majority on the Supreme Court last year overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. The court ruled it is now up to individual states to decide whether abortion should be legal or not.
The FDA has in recent years made it easier to use mifepristone, including in 2016 approving its use to 10 weeks of pregnancy, up from seven, and in 2021 allowing it to be distributed by mail in states that allow access. (PB/VOA)