Here in the waning days of its most recent session, the Supreme Court is turning its attention toward some key abortion cases left on its docket.
On December 8, the court is expected to make a decision on whether to hear a case challenging the availability of a common abortion pill, mifepristone—a decision that could have some of the most dire outcomes for abortion access since the court’s conservative supermajority overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022.
Mifepristone was first developed in the 1980s and, along with misoprostol, it comprises one of a two-pill prescription jointly referred to as “the abortion pill.” Together, they account for more than half of all the abortions in the United States, according to a 2022 report by the Guttmacher Institute.
In April, a Trump-appointed judge halted access to the drug. Four months later, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the plaintiffs, the right-wing Christian organization Alliance Defending Freedom, ruling that while the pill was safe for market, the Food and Drug Administration had overstepped its role by taking several steps that expanded access to the drug in 2016: allowing women to access it 10 weeks into pregnancy instead of seven, lowering the standard dosage, and allowing the prescription to be accessed via telemedicine. None of those changes have been felt, however, thanks to a Supreme Court stay on the case. But all that could change should the nation’s highest court decide to hear the appeals.
“If the portions of that order affirmed by the Fifth Circuit are now allowed to take effect, it would upend the regulatory regime for mifepristone, with damaging consequences for women seeking lawful abortions and a healthcare system that relies on the availability of the drug under the current conditions of use,” the Justice Department wrote in court filings.
Given the chance, the plaintiffs would like to see more than curtailed access to mifepristone. In court filings, the Christian legal group made it clear that they hope the court would instead examine the drug’s original 2000 approval.
“FDA’s actions concerning mifepristone—spanning from the 2000 Approval to its most recent removal of safeguards—have consistently elevated politics above law, science, and safety,” they wrote.
But other challenges to reproductive health care may come even sooner than that. One case, centered on Idaho’s emergency request to fully enforce its own state abortion law, could see a ruling as early as this week. Then, on Friday, the justices will consider whether to take up an appeal that would effectively allow challenges to state bans that currently prevent anti-abortion activists from harassing people approaching abortion clinics.