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Supreme Court Rules Against Restricting Access to Abortion Medication Mifepristone

A box containing a mifepristone tablet is pictured in a 2023 photo. In a June 13 decision, the Supreme Court rejected limiting access to the abortion medication. (Photo: OSV News/Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters)

WASHINGTON — In its first major abortion decision since overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected a challenge to the public’s access to the abortion pill mifepristone. 

The June 13 decision means the abortion medication can still be widely available as the justices agreed that the group that filed suit against the easier access to the pill did not have legal standing to do so and their lawsuit was dismissed.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, writing the opinion for the court, said, “We recognize that many citizens, including the plaintiff doctors here, have sincere concerns about and objections to others using mifepristone and obtaining abortions.”

He added that “citizens and doctors do not have standing to sue simply because others are allowed to engage in certain activities — at least without the plaintiffs demonstrating how they would be injured by the government’s alleged under-regulation of others.”

The lawsuit was filed last November by the group Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine on behalf of itself and member groups such as the Catholic Medical Association, the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, and other pro-life groups, represented by the religious liberty law firm, Alliance Defending Freedom.

They argued that the Food and Drug Administration failed to adequately evaluate the safety risks of mifepristone when it loosened the rules on who can prescribe the drug and how it can be dispensed in 2016 and 2020. 

They also said the FDA’s changes created a “substantial risk” because doctors would be forced to treat women suffering emergency complications from the drug, which would violate their personal ethics.

Since the court rejected the case, further challenges to mifepristone could still be raised in court. The justices did not make a ruling on whether the FDA acted lawfully in lifting restrictions on the drug, including one that made it available by mail. 

Other regulatory decisions were also left in place including one that allows women to obtain the pill within 10 weeks of gestation instead of seven and another that allows health care providers other than physicians to provide mifepristone which is part of two drugs used in the most common form of abortion in the United States.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Texas issued a ruling that refuted the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, causing many to think the pill would be banned across the country. The Supreme Court put that ruling on hold while litigation continued.

Months later, the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals narrowed this decision but left in place the part of the ruling which said the FDA’s actions to remove restrictions on the abortion pill’s access was unlawful.

When the Supreme Court agreed to take this case, it chose not to hear a challenge to the FDA’s original approval of mifepristone in 2000 but looked only at what the FDA had recently done about the abortion pill, including its decision to make the drug available by mail.

Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have been vocal in their opposition to the abortion drug since it was first given FDA approval. They echoed objections in 2016 when the FDA relaxed rules for its use, saying it could be administered with fewer visits to a doctor, and they also objected earlier this year when the FDA announced it was allowing some retail pharmacies to distribute the drug.

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued a statement March 26, the day of oral arguments in this case, that said: “With dangerous abortion drugs now making up the majority of abortions and increasing in use, we pray that the Supreme Court will restore the Food and Drug Administration’s safeguards for the health of women and protect more preborn children.”

The mifepristone case was not the only abortion decision before the court this year. In the upcoming weeks, it will decide if Idaho’s abortion ban prevents doctors in emergency rooms from performing abortions when a pregnant woman is facing dangerous complications.