The U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily allowed doctors to prescribe the abortion pill without meeting the women who seek it during the COVID-19 pandemic, which means the drug can now be mailed or delivered. Pro-life groups have warned it can be highly risky.
The Trump administration had urged the court to reinstate a U.S. Food and Drug Administration rule requiring women to visit a hospital or clinic to obtain the drug after a federal district court suspended the requirement. But the high court declined to immediately act on the request and sent it back to the district court.
Conservative justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.
"While COVID–19 has provided the ground for restrictions on First Amendment rights, the District Court saw the pandemic as a ground for expanding the abortion right recognized in Roe v. Wade," Alito wrote in his dissent, adding that the FDA requirement has been enforced for the course of four presidential administrations.
"During the COVID–19 pandemic, the FDA suspended in-person dispensing requirements for some drugs, but it evidently decided that the mifepristone requirement should remain in force. Nevertheless, a District Court Judge in Maryland took it upon himself to overrule the FDA on a question of drug safety.
"Under the approach recently taken by the Court in cases involving restrictions on First Amendment rights, the proper disposition of the Government’s stay application should be clear: grant. But the Court is not willing to do that. Nor is it willing to deny the application. I see no reason for refusing to rule."
Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser expressed disappointment. “Chemical abortion poses serious complications for women that can include heavy bleeding, intense and prolonged pain, infection, and even death," she noted.
“Every day of delay is a day that unborn children and their mothers are at risk from these dangerous drugs.”
Blocking the FDA’s rule, U.S. Judge Theodore Chuang in Greenbelt, Maryland, had ruled in July that the requirement for the doctors to meet patients in-person “place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a medication abortion” and possibly violate their constitutional rights.
Without elaborating, the high court last week asked the federal judge to “promptly consider” within 40 days whether his ruling should be withdrawn or amended due to the pandemic.
Litigation on the issue is ongoing in some lower courts.
Dr. Ingrid Skop from Faith and Law wrote on the group’s website that abortion advocates are “aggressively working to remove FDA and legislative restrictions so that medical abortion can be provided without evidence-based oversight.”
These trends must be recognized and countered for the protection of American women, she added.
“Medical abortion is increasing as a percentage of all abortions for reasons that benefit abortion providers but there are distinct disadvantages for women. Medical abortion is far more likely to fail than surgical abortion, resulting in frequent complications and requiring surgical completion in one out of twenty women,” she explained.
Last September, the National Right to Life Committee, a pro-life group, supported the FDA’s ban on online abortion pill sales.
Randall K. O’Bannon, the group’s director of education and research, told The Christian Post that “the evidence out there of the risks and dangers associated with these pills show that the FDA is more than justified in maintaining strict controls on their distribution and use.”
Late last month, a federal judge struck down a Tennessee law requiring abortion providers to inform women who undergo a drug-induced abortion that the process can be reversed to save the baby.
Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Utah also have laws requiring abortionists to inform mothers that they have the ability to reverse their medication abortion. Tennessee is one of three states where such a policy has been put on hold by a court ruling. The others are North Dakota and Oklahoma.