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America’s top court lifts ban on abortion pill

The abortion pill has become a judicial football bouncing from one court to another. <i>Photo: Getty</i>

The abortion pill has become a judicial football bouncing from one court to another. Photo: Getty Photo: Getty

The US Supreme Court has blocked new restrictions set by lower courts on a widely used abortion pill, delivering a victory to President Joe Biden’s administration as it defends broad access to the drug in a fierce legal battle over reproductive rights.

The justices, in a brief order, granted emergency requests by the Justice Department and the pill’s manufacturer Danco Laboratories to put on hold an April 7 preliminary injunction issued by US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Texas.

The judge’s order would greatly limit the availability of mifepristone while litigation proceeds in a challenge by anti-abortion groups to its federal regulatory approval.

Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito publicly dissented from the decision.

Alito, in a brief opinion, wrote the administration and Danco “are not entitled to a stay because they have not shown that they are likely to suffer irreparable harm in the interim”.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the US agency that signs off on the safety of food products, drugs and medical devices, approved mifepristone in 2000.

The current case could undercut federal regulatory authority over drug safety.

Biden’s 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 legalised the procedure nationwide.

Alito authored that ruling.

The New Orleans-based 5th US 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 FDA approval of the drug and effectively pull it off the market.

The Supreme Court had faced a self-imposed deadline to act by 11.59pm EDT Friday (0359 GMT Saturday) before restrictions on access to mifepristone ordered by Kacsmaryk would take effect.

Half the US total

Mifepristone is taken with another drug called misoprostol to perform medication abortion, which accounts for more than half of all US abortions.

The drug also has other uses, such as the management of miscarriages.

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.

Anti-abortion groups led by the recently formed Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine and four anti-abortion doctors sued the FDA in November.

The plaintiffs contend the agency used an unlawful process to approve the drug, which they consider to be dangerous.

The FDA has called mifepristone safe and effective as demonstrated over decades of use by millions of Americans, adding that adverse effects are exceedingly rare.

A former Christian legal activist, Kacsmaryk had a long track record of opposing abortion before the US Senate confirmed him in 2019 to a life-tenured position as a federal judge.

Since last year’s Supreme Court decision, 12 US states have introduced outright bans while many others prohibit abortion after a certain length of pregnancy.

The latest Republican-led move came in Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis on April 13 signed a new law that bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

Kacsmaryk’s decision conflicted with an order also issued on April 7 in a separate case from Washington state directing the FDA to keep mifepristone available in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

-AAP

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