Protesters rally outside Supreme Court amid mifepristone legal limbo

Here’s a breakdown of where the fight over abortion rights in the United States stands now and what comes next.
Posted at 8:18 PM, Apr 15, 2023

Protestors rallied outside the Supreme Court on Saturday as the Court stepped back into the fight over abortion rights in the United States.

Friday night, the Supreme Court said it would take a look at a lower court’s ruling that for now, this temporarily keeps the abortion pill mifepristone available.

Justice Samuel Alito says federal rules on the drug will allow the pill to keep its Food and Drug Administration approval for the next five days while the Supreme Court Justices take time to more fully consider the issues raised in a court challenge.

But all this legal back and forth can be confusing.

So, here’s a breakdown of where the fight stands now and what comes next.

How did we get here?

Less than a year after the Dobbs decision reversed Roe v. Wade, more than a dozen states have banned or restricted abortions.

In those states, abortions have decreased by 95%, but now a ruling by a U.S. District Court Judge could take this issue right back to the Supreme Court. 

The judge in Texas made a ruling to take the abortion pill mifepristone off the market. He ruled the FDA violated federal rules by approving mifepristone, saying the FDA’s initial approval of mifepristone was flawed because the agency did not adequately review safety risks.

Former FDA commissioner Dr. Jane Henney disagrees.

"The safety profile on this drug is good, if not better than when it was originally reviewed, because now it's been out in the marketplace, it's been used on some five million patients, and so it has been extraordinarily well studied," said Dr. Henney.

For context, the drug has been approved for the past 23 years, and in 2020, it was used in more than half of all abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute. 

An appeals court stopped the drug from being taken off the market, for now. 

In the meantime, the Department of Justice and President Joe Biden asked the Supreme Court to intervene, and the Justices are expected to announce their decision to either keep the ruling on hold or let it take effect by Wednesday, April 19.  

"I think it's outrageous what the court has done relative to concluding that they're going to overrule the FDA, whether the drug is safe or not. I think it's out of their domain, and, but we'll see what happens, we'll see," said President Biden. 

Adding to the uncertainty, a separate federal judge in Washington said Thursday that the FDA cannot block mifepristone’s availability in 17 Democrat-led states that are suing to keep it on the market. 

New York state lawmakers say they will now stockpile the drug. 

U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court issues temporary stay in abortion pill case

The Supreme Court issued a stay in a case that could impact whether a popular abortion drug can still be prescribed.


What does this mean for pregnant people?

If the Supreme Court doesn't choose to act after Wednesday, doctors will be instructed to only prescribe mifepristone up to seven weeks of a pregnancy, even though the FDA currently says the drug is approved for use up until 10 weeks. 

Pregnant people would be required to attend three in-person office visits to receive a medication abortion.  

As Americans wait to hear from the Supreme Court, more states are working to pass legislation to limit abortions. 

This week, Florida passed a new and more restrictive six-week abortion ban, which Governor Ron DeSantis signed within hours. 

It's called the Heartbeat Protection Act, and it bans abortion after six weeks but makes exceptions to save the life of the pregnant woman.  

However, that exception requires written authorization from two different doctors. There's also an exception for rape, incest, and human trafficking; in those cases, abortions are allowed up until 15 weeks.  

The other exception: for a fatal fetal abnormality, which allows an abortion any time in the first or second trimester.  

But this six-week ban is on hold even though it’s been signed into law until the State Supreme Court decides whether or not to uphold a 15-week abortion ban. If the 15-week ban is deemed unconstitutional, the six-week ban is going to be out as well.  

In this complicated legal battle, doctors urge women to speak up if they need help and not be scared into silence by the legal back and forth. 

"Patients and providers shouldn't be panicking day to day, trying to figure out what the law is today and how it's going to change tomorrow. And that's exactly what it's doing. It's causing a lot of confusion and chaos," said Dr. Jennifer Conti, adjunct clinical assistant professor of OB-GYN at Stanford University.