The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a victory to pro-lifers Tuesday when it blocked a lower court decision and ruled the Food and Drug Administration can require pregnant women during the pandemic to visit a doctor before acquiring pills for a medical abortion.
At issue are FDA rules that require mifepristone – one of the two drugs involved in the abortion pill procedure – to be dispensed in-person “by or under the supervision of a certified prescriber.”
U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang last year said the FDA rules imposed a “substantial obstacle” to women during a pandemic. He allowed the pills to be mailed to women, without a doctor’s visit.
But on Tuesday, the Supreme Court granted a request from the FDA and issued a stay on Chuang’s decision. The FDA rules date back to the Clinton administration’s FDA, which approved the abortion pill in 2000. The Bush, Obama and Trump administrations maintained the doctor’s visit requirements.
Pro-life groups called the Supreme Court decision a victory, although the incoming Biden administration could reverse the rule.
The court’s conservative bloc remained intact in the 6-3 decision, with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett joining the majority. It was her first abortion-related case. The court’s liberal bloc – Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor – dissented.
“We are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes the serious nature of chemical abortions and the need for the FDA to have protocols in place to protect women from potentially life-threatening and devastating side effects,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life.
National Right to Life said the FDA’s own “record of nearly two dozen deaths and thousands of complications” -- including severe hemorrhage and the rupture of undiscovered ectopic pregnancies -- “has proved” that the FDA restrictions are necessary to protect women.
“Chemical abortions put at risk healthy women who are pregnant with healthy babies,” Tobias said. “Women are not guinea pigs and putting them at risk so abortion activists can score political points is abhorrent.”
The abortion pill includes two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone, causing the lining of the uterus to break down in order to kill the unborn baby. Misoprostol sparks contractions and a delivery of the dead child. They can be taken only early in the pregnancy, up to 48 hours apart.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a concurring opinion.
“The question before us is not whether the requirements for dispensing mifepristone impose an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion as a general matter,” Roberts wrote. “The question is instead whether the District Court properly ordered the Food and Drug Administration to lift those established requirements because of the court’s own evaluation of the impact of the COVID–19 pandemic. Here as in related contexts concerning government responses to the pandemic, my view is that courts owe significant deference to the politically accountable entities with the ‘background, competence, and expertise to assess public health.’
“... In light of those considerations,” Roberts wrote, “I do not see a sufficient basis here for the District Court to compel the FDA to alter the regimen for medical abortion.”
Photo courtesy: Bill Mason/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.