The Justice Department is asking the Supreme Court to continue access to the abortion pill mifepristone. DOJ is acting after a federal appeals court ruled that the pill would remain available for now but with significant restrictions, including a requirement for in-person doctor visits to obtain the drug, reports Reuters. Mifepristone is part of a two-drug regimen, administered with misoprostol, for medication abortions in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Both drugs account for more than half of the nation's abortions. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put on hold part of the new order by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Tex., that suspended the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for the drug while he hears a lawsuit by anti-abortion groups seeking to ban it. The Biden administration and the mifepristone maker, Danco Laboratories, had sought an emergency stay of that order. The appeals court declined to block portions of Kacsmaryk's order that effectively reinstate restrictions on the pill's distribution that had been lifted since 2016. In addition to a requirement of in-person doctor visits to prescribe and dispense the drug, those restrictions include limiting its use to the first seven weeks of pregnancy, down from the current 10. Kacsmaryk's order is set to take effect on Friday.
Kacsmaryk's ruling conflicts with a different federal judge's decision ordering the FDA to maintain access to mifepristone with no new restrictions in 17 states and the District of Columbia. The lawsuit before Kacsmaryk was filed against the FDA in November by four anti-abortion medical associations led by the recently formed Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine and four anti-abortion doctors. They said the agency used an improper process when it approved mifepristone in 2000 and did not adequately consider the drug's safety when used by girls under age 18 to terminate a pregnancy. Kacsmaryk said he thought the anti-abortion groups were likely to succeed on the merits, writing that the FDA "acquiesced on its legitimate safety concerns - in violation of its statutory duty - based on plainly unsound reasoning and studies that did not support its conclusions" when it approved mifepristone. The 5th Circuit majority on Wednesday said that the government's arguments for an emergency stay of the ruling focused on the potential harm of pulling mifepristone from the market entirely but that it was "difficult to argue" that the 2016 changes "were so critical to the public given that the nation operated - and mifepristone was administered to millions of women - without them for sixteen years."