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US Supreme Court extends block on abortion pill curbs by two days

2023-04-19T19:30:31Z

The U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, U.S., June 26, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Wednesday extended by two days a temporary block on limits set by lower courts on access to the abortion pill mifepristone in a challenge by anti-abortion groups to the drug’s federal regulatory approval.

The decision to keep the matter on hold gives the justices a bit more time to consider requests by President Joe Biden’s administration and the pill’s manufacturer Danco Laboratories to block an April 7 preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Texas that would greatly limit the availability of mifepristone while litigation proceeds.

Alito’s order extended the pause on the dispute until Friday at 11:59 p.m. ET (0359 GMT Saturday). He had previously halted the lower court rulings until the end of Wednesday.

The Supreme Court has a 6-3 conservative majority.

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.

Nevada-based GenBioPro Inc, maker of the only U.S. generic version of the mifepristone, on Wednesday filed a lawsuit naming the FDA as a defendant seeking to ensure that it can continue selling its pill amid the ongoing legal challenges. GenBioPro named the FDA as a defendant so that it can ask a court to order the agency to keep the drug on the market.

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.