FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, U.S., June 26, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo
By Andrew Chung
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday faces a self-imposed deadline to act before significant limits on access to the abortion pill mifepristone take effect in a challenge by anti-abortion groups to the drug’s federal regulatory approval.
Conservative Justice Samuel Alito on Friday temporarily halted lower court rulings setting the restrictions until 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday (0359 GMT Thursday) to give the top U.S. judicial body time to weigh a bid by Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration to defend the mifepristone’s broad availability while litigation continues.
Alito handles emergency matters arising from a group of states including Texas. His action froze the litigation while the Supreme Court considers emergency requests by the Justice Department and the pill’s manufacturer Danco Laboratories to put on hold an April 7 preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Texas that would greatly limit mifepristone’s availability.
The Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, is expected to act before the deadline to either grant or reject the requests or further pause the litigation. The justices could also fail to act, which would let the restrictions go ahead.
The 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 legalized the procedure nationwide. Alito authored that ruling.
The White House is prepared for a long legal fight on the issue, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
“We’re clearly keeping a close eye on this. … We are prepared for any outcome,” Jean-Pierre added.
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.
In a case that could undercut federal regulatory authority over drug safety, the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on April 12 declined to block the curbs ordered by Kacsmaryk. The 5th Circuit did halt a part of Kacsmaryk’s order that would have suspended the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of the drug in 2000 and effectively pull it off the market. The FDA is the U.S. agency that signs off on the safety of food products, drugs and medical devices.
The restrictions would roll back actions taken by the FDA since 2016 to facilitate access to mifepristone after confirming the medication’s safety and efficacy. The revived restrictions would include limiting its use to the first seven weeks of pregnancy, down from the current 10, and a requirement for three in-person doctor visits to obtain a medication abortion.
Mifepristone is used in combination with another drug called misoprostol to perform medication abortions, which account for more than half of all U.S. abortions.
Reuters/Ipsos public opinion polling shows little support for recent steps to further restrict abortion access.
A majority of Americans – some 68%, including 46% of Republicans – oppose Kacsmaryk’s decision overturning FDA approval of mifepristone. Some 56% of respondents said they have an unfavorable view of the Supreme Court.