Supreme Court Justices Express Doubt Regarding Texas Doctors’ Challenge to Abortion Pills

Supreme Court justices appear skeptical of Texas doctors’ challenge to abortion pills

Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court expressed doubt on Tuesday about imposing additional restrictions on the distribution of abortion medication through pharmacies or via mail. Both conservative and liberal justices questioned whether a group of antiabortion doctors had the legal standing to contest the dispensing regulations established by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This issue took precedence during the two-hour hearing, indicating the justices’ sentiments regarding the case.

Representing the Biden administration, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar urged the court to dismiss the case, arguing that a few doctors opposed to all abortions lacked the standing to challenge the widespread use of the medication by millions of women.

A decision from the court is anticipated later this session, likely toward the end of June. If the court were to uphold new restrictions on dispensing abortion pills, it would impact women in states like California where abortion is legal. Conversely, a ruling that the antiabortion doctors lack standing to sue could prevent similar challenges in the future.

Supreme Court Justices Express Doubt Regarding Texas Doctors' Challenge to Abortion Pills
Supreme Court Justices Express Doubt Regarding Texas Doctors’ Challenge to Abortion Pills (Credits: ABC News)

Abortion pills, typically consisting of mifepristone and misoprostol, have become the most common method of terminating pregnancies in the U.S., used by three out of five abortion patients. Their usage has notably increased in the two years following the Dobbs decision, which invalidated the constitutional right to abortion.

During Tuesday’s hearing, conservative Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. was the only one to directly challenge arguments against dismissing the antiabortion claim.

Justices Neil M. Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, and Brett M. Kavanaugh mainly asked procedural questions. Gorsuch questioned why a lawsuit initiated in western Texas by a few antiabortion doctors would lead to a nationwide injunction.

Barrett noted existing “conscience protections” for doctors with moral objections to abortion and expressed no evidence of those protections being disregarded.

Kavanaugh sought clarification regarding federal law’s stance on doctors being compelled against their consciences to participate in abortions, which Prelogar affirmed.

Supreme Court Justices Express Doubt Regarding Texas Doctors' Challenge to Abortion Pills
Supreme Court Justices Express Doubt Regarding Texas Doctors’ Challenge to Abortion Pills (Credits: Andrei Popov)

The court’s liberal members also questioned the basis of the case, with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson highlighting a discrepancy between the complaints of the antiabortion doctors and the remedy they sought.

The court heard from three female attorneys on Tuesday. Jessica Ellsworth, representing Danco, echoed the Solicitor General’s stance, emphasizing the FDA’s authority on matters of drug safety. Erin M. Hawley, representing the antiabortion doctors, defended their standing to sue, although she primarily faced challenges on this front.

The FDA approved mifepristone’s use in 2000, deeming it safe and effective in combination with misoprostol. The agency loosened restrictions on the pills’ prescription in 2016 and 2021, eliminating the requirement for in-person doctor visits before prescription.

These changes allowed for telemedicine prescriptions, now used in states prohibiting abortions. Despite potential side effects, the FDA asserts that serious complications are rare, with over 5 million women in the U.S. having used the medication since 2000.

The widespread use of abortion pills has made them a target for antiabortion activists. Two years ago, a group of such doctors filed a lawsuit in Texas seeking to overturn the FDA’s approval of the drugs, which led to subsequent legal proceedings and appeals.

The court’s reaction during Tuesday’s arguments suggests a majority may vote to reverse the previous ruling, with Justices Thomas and Alito potentially dissenting again.

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