J. Scott Applewhite/AP
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined, at this time, to reimpose FDA regulations that require women seeking medical abortions to pick up prescribed pills in person at a clinic rather than by mail.
The court’s decision came Thursday night in a 6-2 vote that rejected an emergency appeal from the Trump administration.
The Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory challenge was launched by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists after the agency relaxed similar regulations for other drugs — including opioids — to limit exposure of COVID-19 patients during the pandemic. The FDA declined to relax the same rule for people who prescribed abortions with pills during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
Federal Judge Theodore Chuang of Maryland ruled in favor of ACOG, saying requiring such in-person pill drives during a pandemic posed “a substantial hurdle for women seeking abortions.” The Supreme Court has long ruled that such significant hurdles unconstitutionally interfere with a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.
On Thursday evening, the Supreme Court rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to block the lower court’s order. But the decision was more of a punt than a long-lasting decree.
The High Court said it would keep the Trump administration’s request ‘in abeyance’ to allow the district court judge to quickly consider further efforts by the administration to ‘dissolve, vary or stay’ its order previous if “the relevant circumstances have changed”. And the judges said their decision did not indicate their view on the merits of the case if it was up to them again.
The wording of the one-paragraph order appeared to suggest the court was simply unwilling to make a decision in an abortion case three weeks after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, and just days before the US Senate does not take the judge’s nomination. Amy Coney Barrett replacing Ginsburg.
“It is a relief that for the next few weeks the Trump administration cannot force abortion patients to unnecessarily risk contracting a life-threatening disease as a condition of seeking care,” said Julia Kaye, senior attorney for the ACOG in this case. But, she added, “When President Trump attempts to rush before a third Supreme Court justice for the express purpose of overturning Roe v. Wade, the court’s belated decision in this case gives little assurance that the right to abortion is guaranteed.”
But Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion rights, said her group was “disappointed by the lack of a decision”.
“We thank the Trump administration for fighting for vitally important health and safety protections and are confident that we will prevail in the end,” she said.
Judges Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas disagreed with Thursday night’s ruling. Writing for both, Alito said that “for all intents and purposes, there is little difference between what the court has done and an express denial” of the Trump administration’s emergency request to block the order. of the lower court.
Alito went on to slam colleagues for other actions he has taken during the pandemic to maintain bans on large religious gatherings, moves he called “unimaginable restrictions” on the “free exercise of religion.”