The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case regarding the restriction on the use of mifepristone in the United States. Mifepristone — when taken in conjunction with misoprostol — is a pill that can end a pregnancy that is less than 10 weeks along.
In August 2023, Texas’ ultra-conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision that would deny women access to the medication mifepristone. Previously, a federal judge in Amarillo, Texas attempted to completely ban the use of mifepristone by suspending its regulatory approval. However, this decision was remanded back to the lower court by the Supreme Court. The restrictions imposed by the new lower court ruling have made their way back to the Supreme Court. The restrictions include: shutting down access to mifepristone by mail, banning those who are more than 7 weeks pregnant from using mifepristone, and forcing direct physician supervision for anyone taking or administering mifepristone.
The Feminist Majority Foundation’s President, Eleanor Smeal, was one of the first activists to bring attention to mifepristone as a life-saving medication for women across the US. With Smeal’s help, the Feminist Majority Foundation fought for the right to access the medication, built widespread public support through an 11-year education campaign, and pressed for FDA approval.
In September of 2000, the FDA finally approved mifepristone as a method for abortion in the early stages of pregnancy. This approval was the result of four years of review and scientific study. Twenty years of FDA scrutiny including follow-up research has proven the medication to be safe. In 2020, over half of abortions in the United States were done through a pill and 98% of those abortions involved mifepristone in combination with a second pill. This means that five million people relied on mifepristone when they needed abortion care or had a miscarriage. This method has been shown by the FDA to be safe and effective for over 20 years.
New mifepristone restrictions are another way in which anti-abortion advocates are threatening people’s rights to medical care. Since the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion in June of 2022, basic care is being denied as healthcare providers risk facing criminal prosecution from performing what were once routine life-saving procedures and prescribing life-saving prescriptions. Other doctors are fleeing jurisdictions that have criminalized healthcare procedures for women. As doctors leave, maternity deserts are cropping up all over the country, causing pregnancy complications to increase and dangerously reducing or destroying access to reproductive care. If the Supreme Court allows for the mifepristone restrictions to take effect, this problem will be exacerbated; gaining access to mifepristone will become nearly impossible for those who do not have the resources to drive hundreds of miles to see a physician just to get medication.
Anti-abortion advocates argue that the FDA overlooked studies and rushed the approval of mifepristone when they approved it in 2000. In addition, they claim that mifepristone is a dangerous drug and should be banned. This claim is false. For over 20 years, mifepristone has been used safely and has an efficacy rate of 95% when used in combination with misoprostol. All medication has the possibility of side effects, but mifepristone has such a strong safety record that abortion providers say it is safer than taking Tylenol.
By restricting access to the drug mifepristone, the Supreme Court will continue to bolster the power of conservative anti-abortion groups. Restrictions such as banning the availability of mifepristone by mail allows for anti-abortion groups to dictate how women can or cannot access reproductive resources. Anti-abortion strategies seek to create false narratives about mifepristone and create even more complicated barriers to abortion.
Retaining access to mifepristone with no restrictive rules in place would be a lifesaving win for women in the United States. It would help women deal with the complexities of their everyday lives while also enabling them to make the best medical decisions for their own body. Anti-abortion groups are actively making it difficult for oppressed groups of people to access reproductive care. We must continue to fight back to ensure that mifepristone will stay legal in the United States.