13 April 2023
A federal appeals court ruled late Wednesday that the abortion drug mifepristone may still be used in the United States for now with some restrictions.
Abortion is a process that ends a woman's pregnancy.
One restriction requires visiting a doctor in-person to receive the drug. Another restriction limits the drug's use to the first seven weeks of pregnancy, down from the current 10 weeks.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug Mifepristone 23 years ago. In 2016, the agency expanded the use to 10 weeks and permitted sending it to women by mail. Medical experts say millions of women have used the drug to end their pregnancies in combination with a second drug, misoprostol.
The appeals court decision narrowed a ruling by a lower court judge in Texas. That ruling suspended the FDA's approval of the drug. Preventing the drug from being sent by mail means there is a limit on the most used method of abortion in the U.S.
Alliance Defending Freedom, the group that brought the Texas legal case against the drug, called the federal appeals court decision a "victory." The group was also involved in the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade to end the constitutional right to abortion last year.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that the Biden administration "strongly disagrees" with the appeals court decision.
"We will be seeking emergency relief from the Supreme Court to defend the FDA's scientific judgment and protect Americans' access to safe and effective reproductive care," he said.
The latest abortion dispute started last Friday with conflicting court decisions in the states of Texas and Oregon.
In Texas, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ordered a hold on FDA approval of mifepristone last Friday. The order came after anti-abortion groups claimed that the FDA used an improper process when it approved mifepristone in 2000. They said the agency did not fully consider the drug's safety when used by girls under the age of 18 to end a pregnancy.
Kacsmaryk agreed with the anti-abortion groups. He wrote that the FDA ignored safety concerns when it approved mifepristone.
His order also agreed with anti-abortion groups who said that a 19th-century law could be used to block sending abortion drugs through the mail. The Comstock Act was passed in 1873. It banned mailing birth control methods and things that could be used in an abortion. Since then, courts have narrowed the law.
Some legal experts say the law has not been enforced since the 1930s. But anti-abortion groups turned to the law after the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision.
In Oregon, U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice issued a different ruling. He ordered federal officials not to make any changes that would restrict the use of mifepristone.
The ruling came from a legal action brought by a group of 17 Democratic Party-led states seeking to expand availability of abortion drugs. States led by Democratic Party governors are buying up drugs used in abortions to guarantee their availability.
On Monday, the Justice Department appealed Kacsmaryk's ruling. Also, more than 300 drug company officials signed an open letter calling for the Texas ruling to be struck down. They said the ruling limits the FDA's power and ignores years of scientific evidence of the drug's safety.
Alliance Defending Freedom said in a call with the media early Thursday that it did not plan to ask the Supreme Court to become involved at this point.
It remains unclear if the Supreme Court will take the case. But the appeal of Kacsmaryk's earlier ruling will continue in the appeals court whether or not all or part of it remains in effect.
I'm Mario Ritter, Jr.
Hai Do wrote this report for VOA Learning English from Associated Press and Reuters sources.
Words in This Story
prevail –v. to defeat an opponent
improper –adj. not correct
relief –n. (legal) assistance asked of a court of law
access –n. the ability to get something; the availability of something