Decoding the recent Supreme Court update
Today’s update has three parts. First, the justices formally approved a request—submitted by the Biden administration and Danco (the brand manufacturer for mifepristone) in September 2023—for the case to be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Notably, the request limited the review to the decision from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected the challenge to the FDA’s initial approval of mifepristone but reimposed restrictions on the medication that existed before 2016. These previously lifted restrictions include requiring unnecessary medical trips to the doctor’s office and limits on the ability of patients to access medication abortion through telehealth and end their pregnancies in the privacy and comfort of their own homes. Second, the order also stated that Alliance was consolidated with another case, Danco Laboratories v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine. Third, the Justices simultaneously denied a cross-certification request from the plaintiffs—the anti-abortion organization that originally brought this case. This request asked in-part for the Supreme Court to review broader questions on approval and regulation, including the FDA’s initial approval of mifepristone in 2000.
Cumulatively, this means that the Supreme Court will schedule oral arguments, potentially as early as Spring 2024, and is predicted to render a final decision on the case potentially in Summer 2024. It also means that the Supreme Court will review previously imposed restrictions on mifepristone, which have been lifted after extensive FDA review as part of their extensive decision-making process and general medical consensus that such restrictions were unnecessary for a medication that has proven safe and effective after more than 20 years on the market.
However, the final ruling on this case will have far-reaching consequences that go beyond access to abortion for women throughout the country, even in states where abortion is legal. It marks an unprecedented attempt by far-right activists to commandeer the judiciary to threaten not only abortion access but also highlights the dangerous trend of judges upending legal precedent and bending legal norms, all seemingly in the pursuit of ideological goals.
Any legal claim questioning the safety and efficacy of Mifepristone is meritless
Pending the Supreme Court’s final decision, access to mifepristone remains unchanged
The availability of mifepristone remains the same as before litigation over the question of mifepristone’ approval officially began. It remains available in states where abortion is legal because Alliance is subject to a prior judicial order the Supreme Court issued in April 2023. The order, also known as a stay, effectively pauses any new restrictions on mifepristone until the court most likely makes a final decision on the case, potentially as early as Spring 2024. The stay ensures that the earlier court rulings from the U.S. District Court of Northern Texas and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals—both of which attempted to restrict access to mifepristone in varying degrees on a preliminary or emergency basis—do not go into effect.
The stay’s preservation of medication abortion availability, particularly through mail, has kept the post-Roeabortion-access crisis from being even worse than it already is. Since this very Supreme Court majority eradicated the constitutional right to abortion, patients and health care professionals have been caught in in a confusing web of evolving challenges. This has had devastating impacts on pregnancy care, since mifepristone is used in the medication management of early pregnancy loss. As of this week, 14 states have in effect near-total abortion ban during any point in pregnancy, and seven states have implemented abortion bans with other limits as early as six weeks.
The impact of Alliance on medical professionals
To understand the impact of the changing abortion landscape on medical care, one must consider the realities that medical professionals face in trying to provide patient care in post-Roe America. The realities presented in a national survey of 569 OB-GYNs across the country highlight that the politicization of medicine has real—and sometimes fatal—consequences for women’s health:
- “1 in 5 office-based OB-GYNs report they have personally felt constraints on their ability to provide care for miscarriages and other pregnancy-related medical emergencies since the Dobbs In states where abortion is banned, this share rises to 4 in 10 OB-GYNs.”
- “68 percent of OB-GYNS surveyed say the ruling has worsened their ability to manage pregnancy-related emergencies. Large shares also believe that the Dobbs decision has worsened pregnancy-related mortality (64 percent); racial and ethnic inequities in maternal health (70 percent); and the ability to attract new OBGYNs to the field (55 percent).”
Alliance’s ascent to SCOTUS demonstrates how the politicization of the judiciary is hastening the politicization of medicine
It remains unprecedented for judges with no medical or scientific expertise to attempt to find a drug unsafe despite the approval of both the FDA and the drug manufacturer. Additionally, legal scholars across the spectrum of political ideologies have noted that basic legal norms, such as statute of limitations and legal standing, have been disregarded to an egregious extent by both the Northern District of Texas and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, implying a bias in favor of the plaintiffs—the far-right extremists that brought this case. Notably, all the federal judges that have reviewed Alliance have well-documented personal records opposing abortion. This again highlights the ongoing accusations that the plaintiffs have cherry-picked judges whose personal ideologies are well-documented and suggests that they may be more likely to find reason to rule in the plaintiffs’ favor. At all levels, the judges willingness to disregard medical standards and scientific expertise emphasizes that this is an egregious intrusion into medicine by a politicized judiciary that will hurt women.
The same extremist Supreme Court majority that upended legal precedent and eradicated the constitutional right to abortion in Dobbs will now be deciding the fate of mifepristone in the United States. The Supreme Court must choose the rule of law over personal ideology. The lives of countless vulnerable women alongside the future of prescription drug availability and the independence of the judiciary are all at stake in Alliance.