The Trump administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to reimpose a rule governing a pill commonly used in medication abortions.
Since 2000, the Food and Drug Administration has established rules for Mifeprex, a drug used during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. The regulations say it must be administered by a health care professional in a clinic, hospital or doctor's office and the patient must sign a form acknowledging that she has been counseled about the drug's possible risks.
But a group of doctors, led by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, filed a lawsuit seeking to have the restrictions relaxed during the coronavirus pandemic. Medical offices and clinics have either closed their doors or restricted appointments, they said, and requiring pregnant women to make in-person visits exposed them to the risk of infection.
Federal District Court Judge Theodore Chuang agreed, ruling that keeping the FDA rule during the pandemic would “place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a medication abortion and that may delay or preclude a medication abortion and thus may necessitate a more invasive procedure.” Instead, he said, the pills could be sent by mail.
His injunction stopped enforcement of the FDA rule nationwide.
Urging the Supreme Court to put a hold on that order, the Justice Department said Wednesday that suspending the FDA requirements could worsen health risks associated with Mifeprex, “which can increase if the patient delays taking the drug or fails to receive proper counseling about possible complications.”
As a legal matter, the government said, the FDA rules do not amount to an undue burden on the right of access to abortion, given that surgical methods of abortion remain widely available.
Julia Kay, of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said the Trump administration “refuses to end its crusade to subject abortion patients and their families to entirely unnecessary exposure risks. Forcing patients to travel during a pandemic just to pick up a pill is irrational and dangerous.”
But Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion, called the FDA rules proven safeguards. “Pregnant women deserve protection from these dangerous drugs,” she said.
The government's plea for a stay of the judge's order was addressed to Chief Justice John Roberts, who will probably refer it to the full court.