Supreme Court's Alito Places Hold On Abortion Pill Restrictions Case, Allowing Access For Now

The Supreme Court's temporary hold on the lower court's ruling means the abortion pill will still be available in legal states and by the mail for now.
The Supreme Court's temporary hold on the lower court's ruling means the abortion pill will still be available in legal states and by the mail for now. Screenshot

Giving the U.S. Supreme Court more time to consider the issue, Justice Samuel Alito Friday placed a hold on a federal judge's ruling last week that would have essentially revoked approval of the abortion pill Mifepristone.

As of Wednesday at midnight, however, Alito's hold is lifted.

Following the ruling by U.S. District Judge Matthew J Kacsmaryk, a Trump-appointee from Amarillo, who suspended the Food and Drug Administration's approval of Mifepristone, contending it had not been sufficiently tested for safety, the matter went to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Fifth Circuit issued its own mid-week hold on Kacsmaryk's ruling, meaning Mifepristone – one of the two medications used to induce a medical abortion that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for more than 20 years – could stay on the market.

But the Fifth Circuit also introduced some previous restrictions that further alarmed abortion rights supporters.

The Fifth Circuit declared that it would be illegal to use Mifepristone after the seventh week of pregnancy and that it could not be sent by mail in any case and could not be distributed without visits to a physician.

The Department of Justice and the Biden Administration, who had already sought to make it easier to access the abortion medication by mail and wanted the period the drug could be taken expanded to 10 weeks, had already appealed the matter to the Supreme Court.

Although this temporary injunction stops Kacsmaryk’s ruling for now (it was to have taken effect early Saturday), abortion-rights advocates quickly issued statements making it clear they do not see the Supreme Court temporary hold as a win.

Rachel O’Leary Carmona, the executive director of Women’s March issued the following statement:

“Had the Supreme Court refused to act today, the restrictions imposed by the 5th circuit would have taken effect across the nation. This stay is the bare minimum. The imminent threat to mifepristone and abortion care remains. Let’s be clear – the only reason this case even exists right now is because Republicans, led by Sen. Mitch McConnell hijacked our courts, filled the benches with partisan extremists and perverted our system of justice with entirely illegitimate legal claims.

“Mifepristone has been safe and effective and proven that way for more than 20 years. There is no doubt about the FDA’s authority to regulate it, or that the drug helps save lives. This care should be a clarion call to defenders of democracy to take action. If we don’t act now, our courts and democracy itself will be eroded beyond repair. That’s why Women’s March is turning out in D.C. and cities across the country this weekend. Together, we can protect the right to safe, legal abortion care and ensure that everyone has the freedom to make decisions about their own bodies and lives.

Shaunna Thomas, the co-founder and executive director of UltraViolet, like Carmona, is concerned that the Supreme Court hold still poses a significant threat to future access of Mifepristone and reproductive healthcare to many people across the country.

Thomas issued the following statement indicating the problems surrounding the temporary stay.
“Let’s be clear, the Supreme Court issuing a stay is not a ‘win.’ We are still in a very precarious situation when it comes to abortion pill access in the United States which, like all abortion access, is under relentless assault by Republican. “If not for this stay millions of people could have lost access to mifepristone nationwide. That reality is still possible. “The Supreme Court justices are well aware that allowing a single district court judge to overturn the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, a rigorously tested, safe, and effective medication, could lead to significant legal repercussions for government agencies. And for some, the wide-ranging impacts that would have on people who need access to this life-saving drug throughout the United States.

“While there is no ban on mifepristone for now, this case proves how fragile reproductive healthcare is throughout our country and how relentless anti-abortion politicians and activists will be until abortion is banned nationwide.”

Alito said his hold will be in place until Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. EST and asked the plaintiffs on the case to respond on or before noon EST next Tuesday.
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Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.