US Supreme Court temporarily upholds access to abortion pills

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Access to the abortion pill was temporarily upheld by the US Supreme Court on Friday, suspending restrictions decided by lower courts.

This is a new stage in the fierce legal battle that agitates the United States around the right to abortion. The Supreme Court decided on Friday, April 21, to maintain access to an abortion pill for the time being, used for more than half of abortions in the country. It thus suspends restrictions decided by lower courts.

The federal government had seized the high court urgently to have these judgments suspended, which the temple of law granted. Only two conservative judges of the Court, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, expressed their disagreement on Friday with the decision taken by the majority of the nine judges.

The Supreme Court’s decision means in particular that American women will be able to continue to receive mifepristone, the name of the abortion pill, by post in states where abortion remains legal.

This is the most important intervention by the Court on the question of abortion, since it canceled the constitutional guarantee to abortion in June 2022.

But the legal battle around the abortion pill will continue and unleash strong passions.

In the United States, the abortion pill has become the new battleground between defenders and opponents of the right to abortion. © Elizabeth Frantz, Reuters

>> To read also: Europe: a haven for abortion?

Access to abortion still under threat

EAvoiding open rejoicing at this stage victory, Democratic President Joe Biden immediately reacted to an announcement blocking for the moment measures “that would have undermined the medical judgment of the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and endangered women’s health”.

Family planning organization Planned Parenthood said it was “good news”, but that “the facts remain the same: access to mifepristone should never have been threatened in the first place”. .

This decision “does not erase the chaos, confusion and fear that this case sought to create,” said Elisa Wells, founder of the Plan C information network on abortion pills.

“And while mifepristone may remain on the market for now, access to abortion is still severely and unfairly restricted in many states,” she added in a statement.

One of the conservative and anti-abortion groups behind the case, Alliance Defending Freedom, instead said the FDA must be “accountable for the damage it has caused.” “Our case, which seeks to put women’s health before politics, continues in the lower courts,” he wrote.

A hearing is scheduled in an appeals court in New Orleans on May 17. More than five million American women have taken mifepristone since it was approved by the FDA more than 20 years ago.

In combination with another drug, mifepristone is used for more than half of abortions in the United States
In combination with another drug, mifepristone is used for more than half of abortions in the United States © Robyn Beck / AFP/Archives

Judicial imbroglio

The legal puzzle began when a federal judge in Texas, known for his Christian faith, his ultra-conservative positions and appointed by Donald Trump, withdrew the marketing authorization for mifepristone on April 7, after having been seized by anti-abortion activists.

Despite the scientific consensus, he felt that it posed risks to women’s health.

An appeals court in New Orleans, seized by the federal government, then allowed the abortion pill to remain authorized, but by limiting the access facilities granted by the FDA over the years.

His judgment amounted to prohibiting the mailing of mifepristone and returning to a use limited to seven weeks of pregnancy, instead of ten.

Joe Biden’s federal government then rushed to the Supreme Court. The latter temporarily maintained access to the abortion pill a week ago, suspending the decision of the court of appeal in order to have more time to examine the file.

Further complicating the matter, a federal judge sitting in theEstate of Washington, appointed by Barack Obama, had estimated just after the decision of his colleague in Texas that mifepristone was “safe and effective” and had prohibited the FDA from withdrawing its approval in 17 Estates and in the capital.

Demonstration in defense of the right to abortion, April 14, 2023 in Washington
Demonstration in defense of the right to abortion, April 14, 2023 in Washington © OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP/Archives

The first suspension decided by the Supreme Court was valid until Wednesday just before midnight. But a probable sign of deep disagreements, Judge Alito indicated on Wednesday that it was extended by 48 hours, until “11:59 p.m. Friday April 21”.

The Court could, at its option, decide to suspend the decisions of the lower courts, uphold them, take up the case or, on the contrary, refuse to get involved.

The abortion pill is already no longer officially available in some fifteen American states that have recently banned abortion, even if roundabout routes have been developed. The impact of restrictions or a ban on this pill would therefore primarily concern Andats where abortion remains legal – for many Democrats.

Even in neighboring Canada, the case has caused concern. Canadian Family Minister Karina Gould reiterated that her country intends to help American women if necessary.

With AFP

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