U.S. appeals court preserves partial access to abortion pill, but with tighter rules

The Biden administration had asked the higher court to stay a decision from a Texas judge while the appeal plays out.

By Sarah McCammon, NPRApril 13, 2023 8:50 am

From NPR:

A federal appeals court will allow partial access to the abortion drug mifepristone while a high-profile federal case plays out, but with new limitations on how the drug can be dispensed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit says the drug, used in most medication abortions in the United States, remains approved for use up to seven weeks of pregnancy while the case is being appealed.

Previously, the drug was approved for up to 10 weeks. The ruling also says mifepristone can no longer be sent in the mail at least for now.

The Biden administration can appeal the Fifth Circuit’s decision to the Supreme Court.

Late last week, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk sided with anti-abortion rights groups that sued the Food and Drug Administration over its approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. He issued a ruling that would invalidate the drug’s approval beginning this Friday unless the appeals court intervenes.

On Monday, the Department of Justice asked the Fifth Circuit for an emergency stay of Kacsmaryk’s decision while the court hears the case. In their request, Justice Department lawyers argued that “the district court upended decades of reliance by blocking FDA’s approval of mifepristone and depriving patients of access to this safe and effective treatment, based on the court’s own misguided assessment of the drug’s safety.”

Mifepristone was approved by the FDA in 2000 and is now used in combination with another drug, misoprostol, in nearly all medication abortions in the United States. Mifepristone was initially approved for medication abortion through seven weeks of pregnancy, but in 2016, the FDA expanded that to 10 weeks.