US Supreme Court preserves broad access to abortion pill

President Joe Biden says he will 'continue to fight' threats to women's health and care

The US Supreme Court blocked new restrictions set by lower courts on a widely used abortion pill. AP
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The US Supreme Court on Friday blocked new restrictions set by lower courts on a widely used abortion pill.

The order delivered a victory to President Joe Biden's administration as it defends broad access to the drug in the latest fierce legal battle over reproductive rights in the US.

The justices, in a brief order, granted emergency requests by the Justice Department and the pill's manufacturer Danco Laboratories to put on hold an April 7 preliminary injunction issued by US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Texas.

The judge's order would greatly limit the availability of mifepristone while litigation proceeds in a challenge by anti-abortion groups to its federal regulatory approval.

The Food and Drug Administration, the US agency that signs off on the safety of food products, drugs and medical devices, approved mifepristone in 2000. The current case could undercut federal regulatory authority over drug safety.

Mr Biden's administration is seeking to defend mifepristone in the face of mounting abortion bans and restrictions enacted by Republican-led states since the Supreme Court in June 2022 overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision that had legalised the procedure nationwide.

“The stakes could not be higher for women across America,” Mr Biden said in a statement after the decision.

“I will continue to fight politically driven attacks on women’s health. But let’s be clear — the American people must continue to use their vote as their voice, and elect a Congress who will pass a law restoring the protections of Roe v Wade.”

The Supreme Court had faced a self-imposed deadline to act by 11.59pm Washington time before restrictions on access to mifepristone ordered by Mr Kacsmaryk would take effect.

Mifepristone is taken with another drug called misoprostol to perform medication abortion, which accounts for more than half of all US abortions. The drug also has other uses, such as the management of miscarriages.

The administration and Danco told the justices in their filings that mifepristone might not be available for months if the restrictions were allowed to take effect.

Anti-abortion groups led by the recently formed Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine and four anti-abortion doctors sued the FDA in November. The plaintiffs contend that the agency used an unlawful process to approve the drug, which they consider to be dangerous.

The FDA has called mifepristone safe and effective as demonstrated over decades of use by millions of Americans. Adverse effects are exceedingly rare, it added.

Since last year's Supreme Court decision, 12 US states have put in place outright bans while many others prohibit abortion after a certain length of pregnancy.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: April 21, 2023, 11:20 PM