Where Ruling on the Abortion Pill Stands in Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Apr. 21 that the abortion pill, mifepristone, will remain legal with no restrictions placed on its access. Mifepristone is currently used for over half of the abortions done in the country. It was originally approved in 2000 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Before its approval in the U.S., it was legal in other countries such as France and China.

However, the Alliance of Hippocratic Medicine—a coalition of anti-abortion groups—argued that mifepristone is not a safe drug. According to The New York Times’ website (nytimes.com), the FDA denied this claim, stating that less than one percent of users need hospitalization. The group brought its claims to U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of Texas—a known opposer of abortions—who ruled that the FDA’s approval would be put on pause. After Kacsmaryk’s ruling, Judge Thomas O. Rice of the Eastern Washington District prevented mifepristone from being restricted in “17 states and the District of Columbia,” reported The New York Times’ website (nytimes.com). Kacsmaryk’s ruling was shortly appealed by the Justice Department. This conflict between judges brought the case to the Supreme Court. “If FDA-approved drugs can be put up for debate in court because of belief systems, where is the line drawn of what separates medical and political matters?” junior Alexandra Ioannou questioned.

Nicole Huberfeld, Edward R. Utley professor of health law, bioethics and human rights at the Boston University School of Public Health, and a law professor at the university’s School of Law, commented in the article “Supreme Court Upholds FDA Approval of Mifepristone: What’s Next?” on BU Today’s website (bu.edu), that if the approval of mifepristone was to be undone by the FDA, this would threaten “the FDA’s authority, the stability of pharmaceutical approval processes, and domestic and global markets, and national access to the most common form of abortion.” Senior and LHS Girl Up Club Co-president Mia Hristodoulou commented, “Issues over medicine should be left to the scientists who make and approve drugs. They are the experts and know what’s best…politics should not play a role in science.”

According to The New York Times’ website (nytimes.com), the restrictions that were requested to be imposed on the medication were as follows: the medicine be prescribed by a doctor; dispensed by a doctor; and picked up in person by the patient, who would also be required to make three visits to the doctor during the process. In order for Kacsmaryk’s ruling to be upheld, NBC News (nbcnews.com) on April 12, 2023, reported that five Supreme Court justices had to have agreed with his decision.

According to NBC News (nbcnews.com) on April 12, 2023, the judges determined that too much time had passed for the approval to be denied, but that the prior decisions from the 2016, 2019, and 2021 rulings were allowed to be challenged. The judges ruled that the drug could be used for a termination during the first 10 weeks of a pregnancy, required doctor’s visits during the process are reduced from three to one, a generic form of mifepristone is approved, and that the pill could be received via mail and telehealth, instead of being prescribed.

The Supreme Court blocked Kacsmaryk’s order and allowed mifepristone to have continued access. If Kacsmaryk’s pause on the 2016 ruling is passed, this would mean that the medication would need to be obtained in person by the patient before seven weeks of pregnancy. The Supreme Court’s decision is not the final say since the issue will be brought to the Fifth Circuit–the United States court of appeals for the fifth circuit–on May 17. There is no definite date by which the final decision will be made by this court. Hristodoulou commented, “Women who are not fit to become mothers whether it is due to age, financial stability, or any other cause must be able to fall back onto something that prevents unwanted pregnancy.” Sophomore Dylan Hincken-Kossow has similar feelings: “Abortion is not and should not be made political. There’s no need to be violent towards women and their bodies.”

Protesters gathered in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on Apr. 15 to advocate for reproductive rights and against the pill’s ban.