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Federal court ends mail availability of abortion pill Mifepristone

 August 17, 2023

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans delivered a ruling on Wednesday that continues to allow the availability of the abortion pill Mifepristone, though it now enforces specific restrictions on the drug.

Three judges on the panel decided to overturn some parts of an earlier ruling on the matter while maintaining others, as Fox News reported.

The Ruling

The decision determined that the drug will only be administered in the presence of a physician, and it limits its usage to the first seven weeks of pregnancy, reducing it from the prior 10 week-restriction.

The ruling further bans the distribution of Mifepristone by mail.

The newly imposed restrictions overturned a previous decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2016, where guidelines for Mifepristone were relaxed to enhance patient accessibility, as Al Jazeera reported.

Given the recent decision, it is probable that the case will advance to the U.S. Supreme Court, which current leans conservative.

This progression comes as President Joe Biden's administration has vowed to safeguard access to Mifepristone and uphold the FDA's authority in this matter.

Details of the Restrictions and Reactions

The restrictions outlined by the court will not come into effect immediately due to a previously issued Supreme Court injunction that permits access to the drug until the entire case is thoroughly litigated.

Last month, a U.S. District Court judge in Texas ruled against the FDA with the assertion that the approval process for the abortion pill was not handled correctly.

In a statement released following the decision, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which initiated the Texas lawsuit against the FDA's approval of Mifepristone, celebrated the ruling as a "victory for women's health."

ADF's Senior Counsel Erin Hawley, vice president of the ADF Center for Life and Regulatory Practice, stated that the court had acted appropriately in directing the FDA to uphold vital protections for women and girls.

The attorney said this included a cessation of what she described as "illegal mail-order abortions."

Hawley further emphasized that the ruling compels the FDA to take responsibility for the negative impacts on the health of numerous women and girls and the rule of law, resulting from the unauthorized removal of essential safeguards related to the chemical abortion drug regimen.

Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod's remarks in the ruling focused on the FDA's failure to address significant safety concerns regarding Mifepristone.

She noted that the removal of restrictions had disregarded the well-being of the women utilizing the drug.

DOJ's Stance and Future Steps

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice (DOJ) expressed strong disagreement with the court's ruling, indicating that the department will seek a review from the Supreme Court.

The DOJ spokesperson emphasized the commitment of the Justice Department to defend the scientific judgment of the FDA and to protect the American people's access to "safe and effective reproductive care."