Supreme Court reinstates requirement for women to obtain abortion drugs in person

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday reinstated requirements that women seeking medical abortions come in person to pick up their prescriptions, siding with the Trump administration on medical organizations that argued the mandate exposes the patients at unnecessary risk during the coronavirus pandemic.

The court’s three liberal justices disagreed with the majority’s brief unsigned order.

In March, the Food and Drug Administration eased in-person dispensing requirements for other drugs and encouraged telemedicine to reduce the spread of Covid-19. But the Trump administration, which opposes abortion rights, left in place regulations requiring women to go in person to a hospital, clinic or doctor’s office to pick up mifepristone, one of the two drugs used to induce medical abortion.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an organization of women’s health physicians, and other groups have sued the FDA over its exclusion of mifepristone, also known by the brand name Mifeprex.

The group’s chair, Dr Eva Chalas, said patients should be able to get mifepristone, like other drugs, by mail.

“We are deeply disappointed that our members and their patients are now facing an unnecessary increase in risk of exposure to Covid-19 as the virus rages across the country. Access to reproductive health care should not come with a caveat,” said Dr Chalas.

In July, U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang of Greenbelt, Maryland, suspended the in-person pickup rule, saying it placed a “substantial obstacle in the way of women seeking abortions.” The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, dismissed the government’s appeal.

The Trump administration appealed to the Supreme Court in August, urging the justices to return the matter for reconsideration to the lower court, while leaving the stay intact.

During this period, the composition of the court has changed considerably, with the death in September of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg allowing Mr. Trump and Senate Republicans to cement the conservative majority with the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett .

Tuesday’s majority released no explanation for its decision, but Chief Justice John Roberts issued a brief statement saying his vote to reinstate the settlement followed his view that government officials rather than the courts should determine public health measures.

“My view is that the courts owe great deference to politically accountable entities” with the “experience, skill and expertise” necessary to make public health decisions, the chief justice wrote.

Dissenting, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the policy “imposes an unnecessary, unjustifiable, irrational and undue burden on women seeking abortions.”

The dissent of Judge Sotomayor, joined by Judge Elena Kagan, argued that the Trump administration’s position made no sense.

Most women who want an abortion in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy use medical abortions, Justice Sotomayor wrote. They can receive medical advice via remote consultations and self-administer medication at home. Mifepristone is the only one of 20,000 drugs with an FDA-mandated in-person pick-up requirement.

“Government policy now allows patients to be prescribed strong opioids without leaving home, but still requires women to go to a doctor to pick up mifepristone, then turn around, go home and ingest it unsupervised,” Judge Sotomayor wrote.

She took particular aim at the Trump administration’s argument that women who were unable to obtain mifepristone in the first weeks of pregnancy “can still seek a surgical abortion,” Judge Sotomayor wrote. “What a callous response.”

With the appointment of two conservative justices to the Supreme Court, conservative state lawmakers are working to overturn Roe v. Wade. WSJ Supreme Court reporter Jess Bravin examines key Supreme Court rulings regarding abortion. Graphic illustration: Laura Kammermann (originally published June 10, 2019)

The Trump administration also opposes surgical abortions and in other cases has supported state laws restricting the procedure.

Judge Stephen Breyer also voted against reinstating the in-person pickup rule, but did not issue or join an opinion.

The rule will likely be revised in the coming weeks as President-elect Joe Biden supports abortion rights and has called for it to be recognized through federal law.

Write to Jess Bravin at [email protected]

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Back To Top