Abuja (Sundiata Post) – The US Supreme Court on Friday temporarily preserved access to a widely-used abortion pill, in an 11th-hour ruling preventing lower court restrictions on the drug from coming into force.
The nation’s highest court issued an “administrative stay” freezing the rulings until Wednesday to allow for parties in the case to submit their arguments, in the latest salvo in America’s battle over reproductive rights.
The stay came after the Justice Department filed an emergency appeal asking the Supreme Court to block the lower court rulings that would have banned or limited use of the drug mifepristone from 1:00 am Eastern Time (0500 GMT) on Saturday.
The order gives the Supreme Court time to decide what to do next in the case.
Signed by Justice Samuel Alito, architect of last year’s blockbuster opinion that overturned the constitutional US right to an abortion, the stay asked for parties to submit their briefs by Tuesday.
In its emergency Supreme Court filing, the Justice Department had argued that the lower court orders “will upend the status quo and scramble the complex regulatory regime governing mifepristone.”
“That disruptive result would profoundly harm women, the nation’s healthcare system, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), and the public interest,” it said.
The escalating legal battle kicked off last week when a conservative federal judge in Texas ordered a nationwide ban on mifepristone, in response to a lawsuit by an anti-abortion coalition challenging the FDA’s approval of the drug in 2000.
In his decision, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk adopted language used by abortion opponents, saying mifepristone, which accounts for more than half of all abortions in the United States, was used to “kill the unborn human.”
On Wednesday, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said the anti-abortion groups had waited too long to challenge the drug’s approval by the FDA but gave them a victory of sorts by imposing restrictions on its use.
The appeals court limited access to mifepristone to the first seven weeks of pregnancy, down from 10, and blocked it from being distributed by mail.
The Justice Department said the initial ruling by Kacsmaryk, who was appointed by former president Donald Trump, was based on a “deeply misguided assessment of mifepristone’s safety” and also took issue with the Fifth Circuit’s decision.
The department urged the Supreme Court to preserve the status quo pending a full hearing at the appellate level, or take the case on itself on an “expedited” basis and hear arguments before the summer recess which begins at the end of June.
Danco Laboratories, the manufacturer of mifepristone, which it markets under the brand name Mifeprex, had also asked the Supreme Court in a separate filing to stay the lower courts’ rulings pending an appeal, saying they risked creating “regulatory chaos across the country.”
The company noted that a separate federal court in Washington state had ruled in response to a suit by 17 Democratic-ruled US states that access to mifepristone should be maintained.
“The result is an untenable limbo, for Danco, for providers, for women, and for health care systems all trying to navigate these uncharted waters,” Danco said.
More than a dozen US states have passed laws banning or severely restricting abortion since the conservative-dominated Supreme Court last year overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that had enshrined the constitutional right to the procedure for half a century.
In the latest development, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill banning most abortions in the southern state after six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant.
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.
Polls repeatedly show a clear majority of Americans support continued access to safe abortion, even as conservative groups push to limit access to the procedure — or ban it outright.