Supreme Court abortion pill saga: How did we get here and what's next?

ByKatherine Lavacca WABC logo
Friday, April 21, 2023
Supreme Court faces self-imposed Friday deadline to decide on abortion pill access
The Supreme Court is facing a self-imposed Friday night deadline to decide whether women's access to a widely used abortion pill will stay unchanged or be restricted. Kristin Thorn

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Millions of Americans await a pivotal Supreme Court decision that will affect access to the widely-used abortion drug, mifepristone. If access to the pill is blocked, doctors will have a harder time providing safe access to abortion in a post-Roe v. Wade world.

So how did we get here?

Back in November, Alliance Defense Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of anti-abortion doctors against the FDA in Texas. The lawsuit claimed the FDA illegally approved the abortion drug mifepristone back in 2000.

The case reached a Texas federal judge in April who ruled to revoke FDA approval of the drug. Just one week later a federal appeals court modified the ruling to allow access to the pill while the Texas lawsuit continues but with a couple of limitations.

Those limitations would prevent the drug from being mailed and block the generic form from being prescribed while the case is heard.

At the same time, a judge in New Orleans said access to the drug should only be granted through the first seven weeks of pregnancy.

That's when the Biden Administration and drug manufacturers asked SCOTUS to weigh in on the limitations saying they would make it more difficult for doctors to provide proper care without causing chaos and confusion.

SCOTUS ultimately enacted an 'administrative stay' which keeps things as they are while the justices determine whether all or some of the limitations should be upheld throughout the duration of the lawsuit.

On Wednesday, the Court issued another stay until Friday at 11:59 p.m.

Meanwhile, leaders in several Democrat-led states have begun to stockpile the drug in case limitations are put in place. It's unclear how a ruling in favor of the limitations would affect states that allow access to abortion.

What is mifepristone?

Mifepristone is a synthetic steroid that is most commonly used for medically induced abortions approved for use by the FDA in 2000.

Providers will typically prescribe a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol to end a pregnancy up to week 10 or 70 days.

The generic form of mifepristone makes up two-thirds of its usage.

What are the possible outcomes?

SCOTUS could rule to keep access available as the case in Texas is heard which would allow providers to continue to prescribe the drug in states where abortion up to week 10 is still legal.

Justices could also green light access to mifepristone, but allow the limitation on mailing the drug.

Some experts have said that limiting access by mail will cause more hardship and confusion for patients in need of the drug in states where stricter abortion bans are in place.

It's unclear how the Texas lawsuit will play out in court once SCOTUS makes its decision but the effects of the ruling will be felt across the country.