Biden Administration Defends Access to Abortion Pill in Pivotal US Supreme Court Case

By: Georgia | Published: Mar 26, 2024

The U.S. Supreme Court has begun its session to deliberate on whether access to the abortion pill should be restricted. 

This case has significant implications for reproductive rights, making it a pivotal moment that draws attention to the justices’ agenda in a year marked by the presidential election. The Biden administration is appealing a lower court’s decision that seeks to limit how the abortion medication, mifepristone, is prescribed and distributed.

A Challenge to Mifepristone's Distribution

The legal challenge against the distribution and prescription of mifepristone originates from Texas, where four medical associations and four doctors opposing abortion have brought their concerns to the forefront. 

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A photograph shows two blister packs of pills on a vibrant yellow background. The left pack contains white pills, while the right pack holds blue pills

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This action underlines the deep divisions on abortion access and the varying perspectives on how medication related to abortion should be managed.

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Demonstrations Echo Outside the Supreme Court

In front of the Supreme Court building, demonstrators from both sides of the abortion debate gathered in large numbers. 

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Two hands are seen holding up protest signs in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building. One sign is a vibrant red and purple with the words "OUR BODIES OUR LIVES OUR DECISIONS OUR COURTS" in bold white letters. The other sign, crafted from brown cardboard, states "ABORTION IS HEALTHCARE"

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They expressed their views loudly, with abortion-rights advocates displaying banners that read, “Our bodies, our freedom,” while anti-abortion groups countered with messages like, “Chemical abortion hurts women.” This public display of protest highlights the strong emotions and contrasting beliefs surrounding the issue.

Potential Changes to Abortion Medication Regulations

The case puts at risk recent changes by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that have made medication abortions more accessible, including allowing abortions up to 10 weeks of pregnancy and permitting the mail delivery of the drug without requiring a woman to see a clinician in person first. 

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These regulatory adjustments are now under scrutiny as the Supreme Court considers the case.

The Impact of the Conservative Majority

The Supreme Court, which currently holds a 6-3 conservative majority, previously overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade precedent in 2022. 

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A crowd of protesters at a pro-choice rally, with two prominent signs held high. The sign on the left is hand-painted in red with the words "MAY THE CHOICE BE WITH YOU," and the one on the right, in bold black letters, reads "ABORTION IS HEALTHCARE."

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This landmark decision had established a constitutional right to abortion. The overturning of Roe v. Wade led to the implementation of numerous Republican-backed laws across states, banning or significantly restricting abortion procedures.

The FDA's Authority Questioned

The justices are reviewing an August decision by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which criticized the FDA’s decisions in 2016 and 2021 to ease access to mifepristone. 

A large crowd of protesters gathered in front of the United States Supreme Court, with many holding signs. The classical facade of the Supreme Court with its iconic pillars stands prominently under a clear blue sky, with an American flag flying to the left

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The appeal court’s ruling brings into question the FDA’s regulatory authority over drug safety, marking a crucial point of legal contention in the case.

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Mifepristone's Safety and Approval

Since its FDA approval in 2000, mifepristone, used alongside misoprostol for medication abortions, has been deemed “extremely safe” by the agency. 

The image captures the exterior of a modern building identified as the Food and Drug Administration, with a part of the façade made of red bricks and another with reflective glass windows

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The FDA asserts that after decades of use by millions of women worldwide, “study after study” has confirmed that serious adverse events related to mifepristone are “exceedingly rare.”

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Plaintiff's Safety Concerns

The lawsuit, initiated by the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, argues that the FDA’s easing of restrictions on mifepristone violated federal law by not ensuring the medication’s safety. 

Protesters sit and stand at an intersection in front of Capitol Hill, holding various signs with messages about reproductive rights and freedom. Security personnel in reflective vests are interspersed among the crowd, under the watch of the Capitol's iconic dome in the background

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This contention reflects broader concerns over how regulatory agencies manage drug safety and their adherence to federal statutes governing their actions.

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Legal Standing of the Plaintiffs

A significant aspect of the case is determining whether the plaintiffs have the legal standing required for the litigation. This requires them to demonstrate that they have been directly harmed by the FDA’s actions regarding mifepristone. 

This is a close-up image of a blister pack containing Mifegyne brand mifepristone 200 mg tablets. One tablet is visible, with the rest of the pack showing the medication name and dosage information

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The plaintiffs argue that the FDA’s decision forces doctors to compromise their ethical standards when treating complications from abortion drugs in emergency settings.

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President Biden's Advocacy for Abortion Rights

President Joe Biden, who is seeking a second term, has been vocal in his support for abortion rights. 

In the Oval Office, the President is seated at the Resolute Desk, signing a document, with the Vice President standing behind him, slightly to the left

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This stance is part of a broader effort by Democrats to highlight abortion rights as a key issue in opposition to Republicans in the lead-up to the election. The administration’s defense in this Supreme Court case is consistent with Biden’s advocacy on this issue.

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The Path to the Supreme Court

The legal journey leading to the Supreme Court’s review began with the FDA’s approval and subsequent actions to expand access to mifepristone. 

Two boxes of Mifepristone 200 mg tablets are displayed, one larger and one smaller, with the medication name and dosage prominently featured in purple lettering

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A decision by a Texas-based U.S. District Judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk, largely sided with the plaintiffs in a ruling that could have removed the drug from the market. However, the 5th Circuit’s decision did not go as far, leading to the current review by the Supreme Court.

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Awaiting the Supreme Court's Decision

The Supreme Court’s ruling on this case is highly anticipated and is expected to be delivered by the end of June

A heart-shaped sign with the text "Mife + Miso" is held up against the backdrop of the U.S. Supreme Court building. The sign is purple with white lettering and stars, indicating support for the medications mifepristone and misoprostol, used together for medical abortions

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This decision could have far-reaching implications for the regulatory authority of the FDA over drug safety, as well as for the future of abortion access in the United States. The outcome of this case is seen as a pivotal moment.

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