The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday turned down a request by the Trump administration to halt so-called “abortion by mail,” letting stand a lower court ruling that allows women to have the abortion pill delivered to their home during the pandemic.
It was a setback for the Trump administration, which had asked the Supreme Court for an injunction blocking a district court ruling from July that overturned Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restrictions. Those FDA rules 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 in July said the FDA rules imposed a “substantial obstacle” to women during a pandemic. He was nominated by President Obama.
The Supreme Court on Thursday said it wanted “a more comprehensive record” at the lower court before ruling. It asked the lower court to look again at the issue and rule within 40 days on the grounds that circumstances may have changed. The high court said it was holding the administration's request “in abeyance” until the lower court ruled.
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.
The court’s denial was unsigned, although Justice Samuel Alito wrote a dissent that was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Alito said Chuang’s decision “if reviewed” by the high court likely will “be reversed.” Alito and Thomas would have granted the injunction.
“And if the FDA is right in its assessment of mifepristone, non-enforcement of the requirement risks irreparable harm” to women, Alito wrote.
Alito criticized the justices for not taking action, saying there is “no reason for refusing to rule.” Alito also criticized the district court’s decision.
“The judge apparently was not troubled by the fact that those responsible for public health in Maryland thought it safe for women (and men) to leave the house and engage in numerous activities that present at least as much risk as visiting a clinic – such as indoor restaurant dining, visiting hair salons and barber shops, all sorts of retail establishments, gyms and other indoor exercise facilities, nail salons, youth sports events, and, of course, the State’s casinos,” Alito wrote. “And the judge made the injunction applicable throughout the country, including in locales with very low infection rates and limited COVID–19 restrictions.”
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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.