Ruling deals blow to access to abortion pill mifepristone – but nothing changes yet

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NEW ORLEANS (NPR) — A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that mifepristone, one of two pills used in medication abortions should not be sent through the mail, however, a previous stay by the Supreme Court means this won’t go into effect right away.

A patient prepares to take mifepristone, for a medication abortion.
A patient prepares to take mifepristone, for a medication abortion. A federal appeals court ruled to impose new restrictions on the drug Wednesday but the ruling will not take effect until the Supreme Court weighs in. [Charlie Riedel | AP]
The pills will remain on the market and available by mail for the time being.

In a 93-page ruling, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans sided with plaintiffs that want to restrict use of mifepristone, a pill used in medication abortions.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which brought the case, cheered the opinion.

“This is a significant victory for the doctors and medical associations we represent and, more importantly, the health and safety of women,” says Erin Hawley, the senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom.

Mary Ziegler, a professor of law at the University of California-Davis who has written books about the history of abortion, said she was not surprised by the decision. “My impression is that this is the Fifth Circuit trying to resurrect what had been a pretty flawed case in the hope that this Supreme Court is conservative enough that there’s no case too weak or extreme, really, for this court on abortion,” says Ziegler.

The Supreme Court is likely to hear the case in the fall, possibly with another case from Washington state that seeks to expand access to the medicine.

The case is an unprecedented challenge to the authority of the Food and Drug Administration to approve medications.

A three judge panel of the 5th Circuit heard arguments in the case in May. All three judges were appointed by Republicans. Two are Trump appointees, one was appointed by George W. Bush.

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