Supreme Court Extends Access to Abortion Drug Mifepristone to Friday

The Supreme Court extended access to the widely used abortion pill to Friday while justices consider whether they will allow restrictions on mifepristone to take effect.

The SCOTUS is dealing with another abortion controversy less than a year after the court majority overturned Roe v. Wade and allowed over a dozen states to ban abortion outright.

What is at stake is whether restrictions on mifepristone ordered by a lower court will take effect. At the same time, a legal challenge to the medication’s approval by the Food and Drug Administration continues.

Justices had first given themselves a deadline of Wednesday evening in a case from Texas that has been fast-moving. Opponents from the Lone Star State are seeking to roll back the FDA approval of mifepristone, the most commonly used method of abortion in the U.S.

Wednesday afternoon, Justice Samuel Alito issued an order of only one sentence, giving the court additional time and indicating it expects to decide by Friday evening. Alito, the justice in charge of handling any emergency appeals from Texas, did not explain.

The justices are set to meet for a private conference on Friday, where they can talk about the issue. The added time could be part of an effort to craft an order with broad support among the justices. However, it could indicate that one or more justices could write a separate opinion and need a few more days.

The abortion drug first won approval from the FDA in 2000, and conditions for its use of it have continued to be loosened in recent years.

New York-based Danco Laboratories, the drug maker, and the Biden administration want the SCOTUS to reject limits on mifepristone’s use imposed by lower courts as long as the legal case continues its way through the courts.

They maintain providers who dispense, and women who want the drug will face chaos if limits on the drug are put in effect. Based on what the justices decide, that could require women to be given a higher dose of the drug than deemed necessary by the FDA.

Washington federal judge ordered FDA to preserve access to drug

Adding a complication, a federal judge in Washington ordered the FDA to continue to preserve access to mifepristone under the rules as they stand in 17 Democratic-led states along with the District of Columbia after they filed a separate lawsuit.

Suppose justices don’t block the ruling from taking effect. In that case, Danco and the Democratic administration have a fallback argument, which asks the court to challenge mifepristone, hear the arguments and then decide on the case by early summer.

Only rarely does the court take such a step before at least one appeals court thoroughly examines the legal issues involved.

In New Orleans, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has already ordered an accelerated schedule for hearing the case. Arguments are set for May 17.

Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in an interview with The Associated Press that for the court to allow restrictions that intervened with FDA decisions “would be ludicrous if it wasn’t so serious.”

Pelosi, a Democrat from California, said if justices take such a step, “they’ve been too long on Mount Olympus, and it is time for a bright light to be shone.”