So What's Going On With Abortion Pills? Here's What You Need To Know

Access to one of the most-used abortion pills is highly contested in the United States at the moment, but a recent ruling by the Supreme Court has temporarily thwarted efforts to prevent the drug from getting to the hands of those who need it.

Mifepristone, one of the two pills used in medical abortions and accounting for over 50% of abortions across the United States, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2000 for the safe termination of pregnancies. But on Friday, April 7, 2023, Texas-based and Trump-appointee U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk suspended the FDA approval, claiming that the federal agency failed to look into the risks of taking the drug before greenlighting it, The AP reports. 

To make matters more complicated, Washington-based and Obama-appointee Judge Thomas O. Rice issued a contrasting ruling less than an hour later, asserting that the FDA should retain its approval and that the medication should remain legal and accessible in states that still permit abortion. Meanwhile, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked Kacsmaryk's ruling to suspend the FDA approval but imposed restrictions on accessing mifepristone. CNN reported that the federal appeals court blocked mail delivery of the pill and shortened the timeframe in which one could take the drug, from 10 weeks to seven weeks. Many people were forced to start traveling out of state for abortion medications as a result. But in a new ruling, a U.S. Supreme Court judge iced these restrictions, making mifepristone legal and easier to access — at least for now.

The Supreme Court retains access to abortion pills for five more days

On Friday, April 14, 2023, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito blocked the tight restrictions placed around the access of mifepristone. This ruling will take effect until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday, April 19, 2023, making the abortion pill accessible for five more days.

It's difficult to predict how things will play out, but the ruling gives the Supreme Court more time to review emergency appeals issued by both the Biden administration and Danco Laboratories, the company that manufactures and distributes mifepristone. "If allowed to take effect, the lower court's orders would upend the regulatory regime for mifepristone, with sweeping consequences for the pharmaceutical industry, women who need access to the drug, and FDA's ability to implement its statutory authority," Elizabeth Prelogar, the US solicitor general, noted in the filing, while lawyers for Danco Laboratories said that the decision by the appeals court resulted in "regulatory chaos" (via The Guardian).

Even though the Supreme Court hit the brakes on the restriction of the abortion pill for the time being, overall accessibility to the drug moving forward could be decided by the justices, most of whom are conservative. But considering how they overturned Roe V. Wade, one can easily assume the outcome. According to President Joe Biden, if the Texas judge's ruling is upheld, it would be "another unprecedented step in taking away basic freedoms from women and putting their health at risk."