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The US Supreme Court has announced a date for oral arguments in a challenge to access to an abortion-inducing drug.
On March 26, the nine justices will hear arguments in two combined cases: Food and Drug Administration v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine and Danco Laboratories v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine.
According to Amy Howe at SCOTUSblog, the Court’s opinion, expected in June, will be the first time since it overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022 that it will weigh in on the issue of abortion.
At issue is access to mifepristone, which reportedly is now a leading procedure to terminate pregnancies.
Last year, the pro-life Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine brought a case in an Amarillo, Texas, federal court against the FDA’s original approval of mifepristone in 2000. The group of doctors and medical organizations also challenged more recent regulations easing the original requirements that women seeking an abortion pick up the drug in person – it could not be mailed – and visit their doctor three times during the process. Originally, the drug could be prescribed only by a physician.
In COVID-era 2021, however, the Biden administration allowed the drug to be prescribed after a “telemedicine” visit.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs decision, overturning Roe, opened the way for states to ban abortion. Because some states have done just that, apparently there is a greater demand for the abortion pill, which would allow women to terminate early pregnancies in their homes.
In April 2023, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee, ruled that the FDA’s initial approval of mifepristone, as well as the more recent regulations, were invalid. The Biden administration appealed that ruling. In turn, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in New Orleans, reinstated the FDA’s approval but invalidated the more recent FDA rules.
Sex trafficking and complications
While the White House has said mifepristone is a way to have a “safe and effective medication abortion,” some medical professionals disagree. When the Supreme Court announced in December that it accepted the cases, Dr. Kathleen Raviele, past president of the Catholic Medical Association and a retired OB/GYN, told Aleteia that data in Finland show that women with a chemical abortion “have four times the complication rate of even surgical abortion.”
One important danger in prescribing mifepristone without an in-person medical examination is the possibility that a woman could have an ectopic pregnancy, where an embryo lodges in a fallopian tube. Undetected, it eventually could rupture and cause massive bleeding. A telehealth visit will not be able to detect an ectopic pregnancy – an exam and an ultrasound are needed – and a medical abortion will not end such an abnormal pregnancy. A woman with an ectopic pregnancy might think that the bleeding and pain are from the medical abortion and won’t seek medical care, perhaps, until it’s too late.
Dr. Raviele and others also warn that lax regulations allow for abuse. The lack of a requirement for proper supervision feeds into human trafficking and sex trafficking, for example. The medical professional at one end of a telehealth call might see only a woman seeking an abortion, Raviele said, not a trafficker who is forcing her to get rid of a “baby that comes as a result of the woman being trafficked.”