A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that mifepristone, one of two pills used in medical abortions in the United States, should not be prescribed after seven weeks of pregnancy or by telemedicine. This is a case that threatens to further constrain the abortion rights in the United States.
At the center of the legal dispute is the sanitary authorization that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave 23 years ago to mifepristone, used in more than half of the abortions in the country.
However, a previous decision ordered by the Supreme Court means that this new ruling will not take effect immediately.
Mifepristone pills will remain in the market in states where abortion is legal and will be available via telemedicine and mail order, because the Supreme Court has already said that the drug and the regulations that make it accessible will stand for now.
In a 93-page ruling, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans sided with plaintiffs who want to restrict the use of mifepristone.
The ruling is the latest twist in the dramatic case, which is the most important legal battle over abortion since the Supreme Court last summer struck down the 1973 Roe v. Wade precedent that protected abortion rights nationwide.
The appeals court ruling sets the stage for the Supreme Court to rule again on abortion. The Justice Department said Wednesday it will ask the Supreme Court to review the ruling.
Wednesday's appeals court decision, ruling in favor of cutting access to the drug and concluding that the pills can stay on the market, sets out what is at stake for the case returns to the judges, and will likely shape the contours of what both sides will argue before the higher court.
Medication abortion makes up the majority of abortions performed in the United States.
Since the rollback of federal protection of abortion rights established by the Roe v. Wade ruling, abortion providers in states where abortion remains legal have relied on the availability of abortion pills to ease the burden on clinics that have been inundated with patients from regions where abortion has been severely restricted.
Mifepristone is extremely safe and has a lower mortality rate than commonly prescribed drugs such as penicillin and Viagra.