On Friday, Justice Samuel Alito of the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily overturned lower court decisions that restricted access to the abortion drug mifepristone. This gave the court time to consider a request from President Joe Biden’s administration to defend the medication in the face of a legal challenge from anti-abortion groups.
The conservative justice, who handles urgent cases from many states, including Texas, has frozen the case and maintained the drug’s availability until the court issues another order.
The U.S. Justice Department and Danco Laboratories, the pill’s manufacturer, submitted emergency requests to the Supreme Court earlier on Friday, pleading with the judges to halt a preliminary injunction issued on April 7 by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of Texas, which would severely limit the drug’s availability while the legal action challenging its federal regulatory approval is ongoing.
Alito took action just hours before the limits were supposed to go into force. He ordered the challengers to answer to the Justice Department and Danco’s demands by Tuesday, and he postponed the implementation of the limits until Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. EDT (03:59 GMT). By then, the court is expected to make a new order.
Since the Supreme Court overturned the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which had legalized the procedure statewide, in June 2022, Republican-led states have implemented increasing abortion bans and restrictions. The administration is attempting to safeguard the accessibility of mifepristone in the face of these laws. Alito wrote that decision for the 6-3 conservative majority of the court.
If the limits were allowed to go into place, the government and Danco warned the judges in their briefs that mifepristone might not be accessible for several months.
Medication abortions, which make up more than half of all abortions performed in the United States, are performed using the drug mifepristone, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved in 2000 in combination with the pill misoprostol. The FDA is the American government agency that certifies the safety of food items, medications, and medical equipment.
The Justice Department claimed that the recent lower court rulings limiting access to mifepristone would have “sweeping consequences” for both women who require it and the FDA’s scientific judgment on drug safety.
Danco stated that it might have to stop operations because of regulatory uncertainty.
In their submissions, the Justice Department and Danco stated that mifepristone drug labels would need to be updated to consider the new restrictions, which might take several months. The agency announced that the generic form of mifepristone would also lose its approval.