Looming court rulings to decide future of abortion pills
Published in News & Features
Medication abortion, which accounts for more than half of all abortions in the United States, has become more common since the Supreme Court overturned the federal right to abortion this summer.
But in federal courts and state legislatures, abortion opponents are trying to limit the use of abortion-inducing pills. Meanwhile, abortion rights supporters have filed lawsuits arguing the opposite — that federal approval of the drugs should prevail over state restrictions.
In January, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made permanent its 2021 ruling that abortion medications mifepristone and misoprostol are safe enough to be administered through a telemedicine consultation, rather than an in-person visit, with pills delivered by mail.
And the Biden administration last week called on the Justice, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security departments to “support patients, providers, and pharmacies who wish to legally access, prescribe, or provide mifepristone — no matter where they live.”
Meanwhile, two lawsuits filed by abortion rights advocates last week claim that federal law overrules state laws that restrict the use of abortion medications.
But a ruling in a Texas court case brought in November by anti-abortion advocates could take the medications off the shelves as soon as this month. And a deluge of new state laws limiting the use of abortion pills is expected in this first full legislative session since Roe v. Wade was overturned.
“Medication abortion is going to be a hot issue in state legislatures this year,” said Elizabeth Nash, principal policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.
“We expect abortion opponents in conservative states to try to limit access by banning the mailing of pills, regulating manufacturers and pharmacies and expanding laws that allow health care providers to refuse to prescribe or dispense the medication,” she said.
“What we’ve been seeing in many states is abortion opponents talking about how medication abortion is dangerous, when we know it’s not,” Nash said.
Inflamed by the FDA’s decision to loosen regulation of abortion medications, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, a Republican, led GOP attorneys general from 22 other states in a January letter to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, calling the decision “both illegal and dangerous.”
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