Supreme Court to hear arguments in abortion pill case

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  • By Bernd Debusmann Jr.
  • BBC News, Washington

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A federal judge revoked the FDA’s approval of mifepristone in 2023.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on whether access to mifepristone, a commonly used abortion pill, should be restricted.

It is considered the most important reproductive rights case since the court ended abortion rights nationwide in June 2022.

The Biden administration hopes the court will overturn a decision to limit access to the drug over safety concerns raised by anti-abortion groups.

The pill has been legal since 2000.

The current legal battle in the highest US court began in November 2022 when the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, a group that brings together doctors and anti-abortion activists, filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The group claims that mifepristone is unsafe and further alleges that the federal agency illegally approved its use in September 2000 to medically terminate pregnancies up to seven weeks of gestation.

Mifepristone is used in combination with another medication, misoprostol, for medication abortions, and is now the most common form of abortion in the United States.

Medical abortions accounted for 63% of all abortions in 2023, up from 53% in 2020, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

In total, more than five million American women have used mifepristone to terminate their pregnancies.

The court previously ruled that it would not consider a challenge to the FDA’s approval of the drug. Instead, this case will focus on the federal agency’s decision to relax restrictions on its use since 2016.

The FDA announced in 2016 that it would allow mifepristone to be used up to 10 weeks, and then in 2021 it lifted in-person dispensing requirements, a move that allowed providers to mail it to patients.

In 2022, the FDA took a step further by allowing retail pharmacies to dispense the drug, meaning medical professionals, not just doctors, could prescribe it. The following year, a Texas judge revoked the FDA’s approval of mifepristone.

Now, the nine conservative-leaning Supreme Court justices must first determine whether the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine can legally challenge the FDA in court, before ultimately deciding whether the FDA’s access changes were legal .

Their decision could force the FDA to tighten restrictions again and make it harder for Americans to access the pill.

Marsha Henderson, former FDA associate commissioner for women’s health, said reversing the 2016 and 2021 changes “will make reproductive care more resource-intensive and less safe.”

Henderson noted that mifepristone is “more strictly regulated and more intensively studied” than most other drugs. He added that a repeal would “undermine the authority given by Congress to the FDA and confuse patients.”

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