Welp. Supreme Court agrees to rule on access to mifepristone

April 2023:

Via the New York Times a few days ago:

The Supreme Court issued a decision on Friday evening that maintained the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a commonly used abortion pill while an appeal moves forward, the latest development in a fast-moving legal battle that followed a lower court’s ruling that ordered the drug pulled off the market.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. had paused the lower court’s ruling on the pill, mifepristone, but that freeze had been set to expire at midnight. The justices issued their decision about five hours before the deadline.

When the justices overturned Roe v. Wade in June, the conservative majority said that the legislative branch, not the courts, should make decisions on abortion policy. But the issue quickly made its way back to the Supreme Court, in a case that may have wide-ranging consequences even in states where abortion is legal, as well as for the F.D.A.’s regulatory authority over other drugs.

As for what this means going forward, it's a much bigger deal than this particular medication (although even the final ruling on this specific drug will be massively consequential for millions of women):

The case could also pave the way for all sorts of challenges to the F.D.A.’s approval of medications. Legal experts said medical providers anywhere in the country might be enabled to challenge government policy that might affect a patient, as did the anti-abortion medical coalition that filed the original lawsuit against the pill. And leaders of the pharmaceutical and biotech industries have filed briefs saying that the case could undermine their businesses by destroying their ability to rely on a single national standard for their products.

Today, via NBC News:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday took up a high-stakes legal battle that could lead to a definitive decision on whether the drug most commonly used for medication abortions will continue to be easily available, including by mail.

The court agreed to weigh appeals from the Biden administration and drugmaker Danco defending several Food and Drug Administration decisions that made it easier to access and use the mifepristone pill. Danco makes the brand version of the pill, Mifeprex.

The justices will hear oral arguments early next year, with a ruling due by the end of June.

...The legal challenge was brought by doctors and other medical professionals represented by the conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.

...The court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, has previously shown hostility to abortion rights, overturning the landmark abortion rights ruling Roe v. Wade last year. But in April, in an earlier stage of the litigation, the court blocked a judge's ruling that would have completely invalidated the FDA's approval of the drug.

Just as a reminder, 3 of those conservative judges who struck down Roe v. Wade were appointed by Donald Trump.

The potential silver lining here, according to Inside Health Policy, is that SCOTUS may be keeping the scope of their ruling more narrow than expected:

The Supreme Court announced Wednesday (Dec. 13) it will consider whether to invalidate FDA’s relaxed prescribing conditions for the abortion pill mifepristone but will not contemplate overturning the agency’s original 2000 approval of the drug -- a move that averts consideration by the high court justices of whether to second-guess an FDA approval decision, which the drug industry had warned would have far-reaching implications for the scope of the agency’s authority.

Although there are other ongoing challenges to mifepristone’s availability, the decision limits the range of potential outcomes and avoids a worst-case scenario for both abortion advocates and pharmaceutical stakeholders concerned about the court system weakening FDA’s broader approval mandate.

This would still be a major blow to women's bodily autonomy rights, however:

...While praising the decision to review the Fifth Circuit’s ruling, the Center for Reproductive Rights said the outcome of the case could still dramatically restrict patients’ access to abortion.

“The stakes are enormous in post-Roe America. Even those living in states with strong protections for abortion rights could have their ability to access mifepristone severely restricted if the Court rules against the FDA,” the group’s president, Nancy Northup, said in a statement.

The Supreme Court's ruling could eliminate medication abortion facilitated via telehealth, compounding barriers to access for marginalized patients in anti-abortion states.

...In a statement, the Biden reelection campaign called the Supreme Court’s decision to take up the case a potential step toward a national abortion ban and pointed to an ongoing case in Texas, in which a pregnant woman whose fetus was diagnosed with a fatal genetic condition and whose health and future fertility are at risk has been denied access to an abortion by the courts, as evidence the legal system’s involvement in abortion is harming patients.