The Supreme Court took its first action in a fierce legal battle over the ban on an abortion pill that has been available for more than two decades.
US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a nominee to the court by former President Donald Trump, ruled this month in favor of an anti-abortion group’s lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The ruling, which rescinded FDA approval in 2000 of mifepristone, an abortion-inducing drug, was transferred to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and partially vacated this week.
The reduced version of Kacsmaryk’s decision would take effect on Friday. However, Conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito issued a temporary stay the same day, blocking the ruling altogether until Wednesday.
Alito’s temporary suspension was a procedural measure that does not indicate how the case will ultimately be decided by the full Supreme Court, which struck down in particular the landmark 1973 abortion rights case. Roe vs. Wade last year.
The FDA declined to comment on Alito’s stay when contacted by news week.
“This suspension is the bare minimum,” Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of the pro-abortion group Women’s March, said in a statement obtained by news week. “The imminent threat to access to mifepristone and abortion care remains.”
“Mifepristone has been safe and effective and has been shown to be so for more than 20 years,” Carmona continued. “There is no question about the FDA’s authority to regulate it, or that the drug helps save lives.”
Lawyers for the anti-abortion organization that filed the lawsuit, the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, argued that the FDA ignored safety concerns related to mifepristone, particularly with minors, when approving the drug.
However, research in the decades since the drug was approved suggests that it poses few serious safety concerns and is likely safer than the popular erectile dysfunction drug Viagra.
Some medical experts have suggested that the ruling by Kacsmaryk, who was nominated to the court amid controversy over his outspoken views on abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, was politically motivated.
“This decision is not based on medicine or science, it is based on political ideology,” said Dr. Smita Carroll, an OB/GYN in New Mexico and a Physicians for Reproductive Health Fellow. news week this month.
“Mifepristone is an exceptionally safe medication, as is the medical abortion process,” Carroll added. “We know it’s a safe and effective way to control medical abortion.”
While the Supreme Court will decide the final fate of Kacsmaryk’s ruling, a federal judge in Washington state complicated matters by issuing his own ruling ordering the FDA to keep the drug available.
The ruling by US District Judge Thomas Rice, a former President Barack Obama appointee, prevented the FDA from taking “any action to remove mifepristone from the market or make the drug less available.”
On Thursday, Rice issued a ruling to also block the Fifth Circuit’s decision, which struck down most of Kacsmaryk’s ruling and imposed restrictions such as requiring mifepristone to be paid for in person and limiting its use to the first seven weeks of gestation.
Rice’s latest ruling, which could also be appealed to the Supreme Court, prevents the FDA from suspending access to mifepristone in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
Mifepristone is often taken along with the drug misoprostol, which does not face the prospect of a federal ban and is capable of inducing abortions on its own, albeit with more side effects.