The US Justice Department announced on Thursday that it will appeal to the Supreme Court against the restrictions imposed on the widely-used abortion pill, mifepristone, in the latest round of the intensifying battle over reproductive rights.
The decision by President Joe Biden’s administration came hours after an appeals court blocked moves to ban mifepristone, but limited access to the drug used for more than half of all abortions in the United States.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said, “We will be seeking emergency relief from the Supreme Court… to protect Americans’ access to safe and effective reproductive care.”
Speaking to reporters during Biden’s visit to Dublin, Ireland, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “We believe that the law is on our side, and we will prevail.”
Late Wednesday, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that mifepristone should remain available for now, but limited access to the first seven weeks of pregnancy, down from ten.
The appeals court also said that in-person visits would be necessary to obtain the drug, a requirement lifted in recent years, and it blocked the medication from being sent through the mail.
The conservative-majority federal appeals court in New Orleans, Louisiana made the 2-1 ruling in response to a US District Court judge in Texas overturning the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the drug, which is two decades old.
The ruling outraged organizations supporting access to abortion such as Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We are furious that yet another court would choose to jeopardize the health and futures of the millions of people who rely on mifepristone for abortion care,” said Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson.
Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said “unless the Supreme Court steps in, this decision will prevent many people from getting abortion care and force them to remain pregnant against their will.”
The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony praised the latest ruling by the two judges appointed by former Republican president Donald Trump as a “win.”
“The court recognized that the abortion pill is dangerous and rolled back Biden’s reckless mail-order abortion scheme,” said Susan B. Anthony state policy director Katie Daniel. “We look forward to the Supreme Court hearing this case.”
The latest standoff over women’s reproductive freedom in America comes almost a year after the conservative-dominated Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that had enshrined the constitutional right to abortion for half a century.
Mifepristone is one of the two drugs used in the United States for terminating pregnancies in the first ten weeks. It has a long safety record, and the FDA estimates that 5.6 million Americans have used it to terminate pregnancies since it was approved.
Last week, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, also a Trump appointee, imposed a nationwide ban on mifepristone in response to a suit by a coalition of anti-abortion groups. In his decision, the judge adopted language used by abortion opponents, referring to abortion providers as “abortionists” and saying that the drug was used to “kill the unborn human.
” Kacsmaryk said that the two-drug regimen had resulted in “thousands of adverse events suffered by women and girls,” including intense bleeding and psychological trauma.
But the FDA, researchers, and the drugmaker say that decades of experience have proven the medication to be safe and effective when used as indicated.
Shortly after the initial Texas decision, a judge in Washington state ruled in a separate case that access to mifepristone should be preserved.
Polls consistently show that a clear majority of Americans support continued access to safe abortion, even as conservative groups push to limit or ban the procedure outright. (AFP)